Tibetan New Year

Among all the Tibetan festivals, the Tibetan New Year (also known as Losar) takes the dominant position throughout the whole year so that people take it most seriously. It lasts for fifteen days from January 1st to 15th. The festival is one for entertaining the immortals and Tibetans, celebration and prays, permeated with a strong religious atmosphere because most Tibetan people believe in Buddhism. During the New Year, people all over the Tibet hold a variety of sports and recreational activities, especially the skills competition. From place to place, recreational and sports activities are broadly similar but also have their own style, which reflects various psychological activities, aesthetic taste and value orientation caused by differences in geographical environment, economic condition, mode of production and external relationship.

For example, the Lhasa people are beginning to prepare for the New Year as early as in 12th Tibetan month. Before the arrival of the Tibetan New Year’s Day, each family will prepare a thing growing up to one or two inches long highland barley seedlings in flower pots, called “Luopu”, indicating a good year. They will also begin to fry a kind of doughnut made of butter and flour called “karsai” in various shapes. It is said that the “karsai” is originated from the most ancient religion—Bonism of Tibet. In the past, people prepare offerings like thee intestines and bones etc. for the deities. Then it evolved into the form of the present, preparing offerings for deities, e.g. tsampa, barley grains, horse-beans, wild ginseng, barley ears, cockscomb flowers and the Sun & Moon tablets, all being placed in a multi-colored wooden container called “Qemar”, which indicates a bumper grain harvest.

On the 9th, 19th or 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month, every household will carry on an activity called “Tuji”, meaning clean the family shrine and furniture, and even whitewash their courtyard walls. On the evening of the 29th day, all family members will sit around the table, and eat a kind of dumping called as Gortu, in which some small pebbles, wool, charcoal, or hot chili, with different implications, may be jokingly stuffed. 

Another important event on the same evening is to expel ghosts. Each person of the families gets a bit of dough go over himself up and down, to mix together the threads and other things on the clothes with the dough. Then people clearly print their fingerprints on the dough, spit saliva and put it in a jar at last. At night, households will carry torches and running behind them are yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. In the end, they will put the torches and Gortu in the jar. With the sound of firecrackers, these things will be thrown on the road and people go back home without looking back.

On the New Year’s Eve, all kinds of offerings will be set on tables or cabinets to prepare for welcoming the New Year. Nowadays, watching Tibetan New Year televised gala has also become one of the indispensable visual feasts during the festival.

On the first day of the New Year, the Tibetans get up very early, but they can’t go out so early. The first thing for them on that day is to scramble for “lucky water”. The housewife who goes out to fetch “lucky water” for cooking breakfast first is thought to be the most virtuous wife and the luckiest person of the next year. After breakfast, people all turn out to the Jokhang Temple in their best to offer sacrifices to the founder of Buddhism Sakyamuni and worship deities. People in Tibet don’t visit each other on the first day of the year. But they will greet and toast each other during the ceremony.

From the second day of the festival on, people in Tibet begin visiting relatives and friends with greetings, and the first thing entering the door is to eat “Qemar”. On the third day, they flock to the Baoping Mountain in the east and Chakpori Mountain in the west to burn cypress branches, and throw tsampa powder into the air, sticking in scripture pole and hang sutra streamer to pray for the blessing of mountain and river gods. Ordinarily, there is also a horse race held on the third day.

Beginning with the 4th day, the largest religious festival—Grand Summons Ceremony will be started performing until the 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month. On the fifth day, farmers in Lhasa suburbs hold grand ceremonies to start ploughing. The whole celebration activities during the Tibetan New Year Festival normally last fifteen days based on traditions.

There involved many similarities in the festival atmosphere between Lhasa and other regions in Tibet as well as a little differentia, among which the scheduling domains the most. For instance, due to variations in climate and geography, the first day of the festival happens to be the busiest period of spring ploughing around the Tsang region centered by Shigatse. At this time, every family focuses on the farming. Hence, it’s customary to celebrate the Tibetan New Year ahead of a month, and the festival in Shigatse region has also been called the “farming year”.

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