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Tibetan New Year (Losar)

Date: 1st-15th, 1st Month of Tibetan Calendar
Location: Tibet, Jokhang

Tibetan New Year, or Losar in Tibetan language, is the most ceremonious traditional festival in Tibet, just as the Spring Festival to Han nationality in most areas of China. Occurs according to Tibetan calendar, Losar happens near Chinese New Year, starts from the first day of the first Tibetan month and lasts for 15 days. The exact date is not fixed, in 2012, it begins from February 22, and 2013 from February 11. As all Tibetans embrace Buddhism, Losar is also an ethnic festival with many religious activities and celebrations.

Celebrations of Losar start on the 29th day of the 12th Tibet month, the Tibetan New Year’s Eve. On that day, religious ceremonies and prayers happens in monasteries, while in ordinary families, Tibetans offer to family shrine, decorate windows and doors with new curtains, plug new prayer flags on roof, paint the gate, beams and kitchen with auspicious religious symbols in white. In the evening, the family reunites and enjoys a special porridge together, known as guthuk in Tibetan, which is made of nine ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. Dough balls in the porridge are made with different ingredient hidden in, such as salt, coal, wool, chili, stone, coin… each with a unique recreational meaning to the one who happen to enjoy it. For example, white colored ingredients like rice, salt are good signs, chili means talkative, wool means softhearted, coal means a “black heart”, coin means wealth, and so on. After the dinner, it is the time to expel the evil spirits. People light torches, run and yell to get rid of evils from their houses.

Feast is the theme during the session. On the first day of Tibet New Year, people made a beverage called changkol which is made from chhaang (a Tibetan beer); they dress up and open their doors upon prayers and go to monasteries. On the second day, people and monks begin to celebrate and enjoy the festive season. People visit each other and exchange traditional greeting “Tashi Delek” (means good fortune and happiness) and offer the special offerings Chema, a Tibetan mascot of auspicious significance made of barley and butter tsampa. A series of folk activities to celebrate Losar also begins, performances like lion dance, festive lantern… and competitions like horse races, archery…

(Monlam Prayer Festival, happens during 4th-11th, 1st Month in Jokhang Monastery)

From the fourth day, the greatest religious festival- Monlam Prayer Festival also begins. It is a tradition begun by Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelug, in 1409. During the session, which last to the 25th day of the month, nearly 20,000 monks from the three great monasteries of Tibet will gather at Jokhang Monastery for chanting prayers and performing religious rituals, Tibetan Buddhism believers and pilgrims from all over Tibet also flock to and join the prayers, teachings, and make donations. Exams for the highest “Lharampa Geshe” degree also held during Monlam. Monks perform traditional Tibetan Buddhist dances, the cham, and make big offering cake, the tormas, which is adorned with elaborate butter sculptures. In other monasteries, special prayer sessions and religious rituals are also the theme.