Losar Festival: All You Need To Know About Tibetan New Year
Losar (Tibetan: ལོ་གསར་) also known as Tibetan New Year, is a festival in Tibetan Buddhism. The holiday is celebrated on various dates depending on location such as Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and India. It usually corresponds to a date in February or March due to the differences between the Tibetan and Gregorian calendar. This year Tibetan New Year will be celebrated on Feb 21, 2023.
1. Tibetan new year history
Historically, Tibetans were mostly nomads who lived on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau with a unique way of farming that immersed their religion. They celebrated by dancing and singing when their crops had a bumper harvest. As time passed by, they began to take the time when highland barley gets ripe as the beginning of a New Year.
The term ‘Losar’ means New year in the Tibetan language. ‘Lo’ means year and ‘Sar’ means new. It begins on the day of a new moon that marks the first day of the first month on the Tibetan calendar. This is called Gyalpo Losar in Tibetan which means “King’s New Year”.
Tibetan customs and rituals for commemorating the new year are deeply rooted in Buddhist ideas and beliefs. Historians also say that the celebrations of Losar in Tibet can be dated back to a period before Buddhism came into existence.
Pre-Buddhist Losar involved people igniting incense sticks to dedicate to the local Gods and spirits. Their belief was the happiness of the Gods and spirits would ensure the well-being of the people during the Tibetan New Year.
2. What do you need to prepare before the Tibetan New Year?
In the last two of the old year called Gutor, Tibetans start to prepare for the new year. On the first day of Gutor, people have to clean the house. Especially, the kitchen is considered the most important part of the house where the family prepares and cooks food.
The hostess will cook some special New Year dishes. One of the dishes is a soup served with small dumplings called Guthuk. The soup is made from meat, rice, sweet potatoes, wheat, Yak cheese, peas, green peppers, vermicelli, and radishes.
Furthermore, Tibetans added numerous ingredients such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal to the dough balls. Each ingredient found in the dough ball will present one’s character, lightheartedly.
For example, if a person finds chilies in his dough, that means he is talkative. If white-colored ingredients such as salt or rice are hidden in the dough, it is believed to be a good sign. If someone finds coal in his dough, it has the same meaning as finding coal in the Christmas stocking; it means that one has a “black heart”.
At night, Tibetans will use torches made of straw, Tsampa, and firecrackers to get rid of evil spirits which are lurking around. Later, they will burn at the crossroad as a way to completely dispel ghosts.
On the second day of Gutor, religious ceremonies will be performed. Tibetans visit the monastery to worship and donate money and gifts to the monks. It’s also time to clean and prepare for the approaching New Year.
The housewives will go to the market and buy ingredients to make traditional food for the New Year. The windows of the house will be replaced with a new “fragrant curtain”. Additionally, goat head, Qamar, green barley shoots, kasai (fried dough ball), and other dried fruits will be placed before the shrine inside the house.
3. Tibetan new year activities
On the first day of the Tibetan new year, people get up early and take a bath before dressing in new clothes. Some offerings are put on the shrines for praying ceremonies. These offerings are made from a kind of dough called Torma, presented as the animals and demons.
During the day, families have a reunion dinner, usually eating a kind of cake called “kapse” and drinking alcohol called “chang”, which is drunk to keep warm.
Traditionally, the housewife wakes up very early on new year’s day. After cooking a pot of barley wine, she will await the sunrise. As the first ray of sunshine on the earth, if the women take a bucket and head to a nearby river, or well, to fetch the first bucket of water of the year, which means sacrosanct, clearest water. It is believed to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.
On the second day, people usually visit friends and relatives. They bring “qemar” which is filled with fried barley, barley podwer, tsampa, straw of barley, and flowers made of yak butter as a wish for the new year. They will sit down for a spirited chat while drinking yak butter tea and other Tibetan delicacies that can be only eaten during the Tibetan New Year.
On the third day of the Tibetan New Year, people will spend time visiting local monasteries where they make offerings. “Wei sang” also known as the burning pine tree branches, cypress, and other herbs to make aromatic smoke as a kind of offering for Gods is essential to the rituals on day three of the celebration.
The other important event is hanging new prayer flags on the rooftop of houses or on the mountaintop. As Tibetans hang new prayer flags, they will also splash tsampa in the air for peace and happiness in the Tibetan new year.
4. Tibetan New year traditional food
Cooking Guthuk is one of the most exciting activities to do during the Tibetan new year. It is a traditional noodle soup which is a variation of the common dish.
Thukpa Bhatuk is a Tibetan cuisine that includes small “bhatsa” noodles. On the eve of Losar, Thukpa bhatuk is transformed into Guthuk.
Guthuk consists of nine ingredients which are ginger, beef, mutton, dried cheese, spinach, beef stock, tomatoes, radish, onions, peas, garlic, etc. Each bowl contains nine balls of dough which are made from barley flour.
Each dough is filled with a small ingredient that symbolizes a special meaning to predict the eaters’ New year’s fortune.
The ingredient can be beans, wool, wood, a pebble, chili, charcoal, folded paper, and many other items. When Tibetans eat dough balls which present a way of getting rid of the negativities of the past year and invite positivity into the Tibetan new year.
After consuming Guthuk, Tibetans would hold another ceremony to dispel ghosts. Every household in the village lit firecrackers and torches made of straw, and yell “come out, come out” while running out of their houses to an intersection of their village. They would throw the torch and leftover Guthuk at the intersection of their village so that all the devils in their house are dispelled and good fortune comes in the coming Tibetan new year. Most importantly, when all stuff is thrown away, they can’t look back.
If you wish to conduct business in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and India, make sure you understand and respect their customs and culture. You probably can try their traditional food which is the unique cuisine in different regions that may impress your clients or business partners.
Read more about other New Year Traditions around the world:
- Lunar New Year: Cultures, Traditions & Celebrations
- How Different Cultures Around The World Celebrate New Year
- Which Countries Celebrate Lunar New Year? And How Do They Celebrate It?
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