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Altitude and harvest dictate timing of celebrations on plateau
By:China Daily
update:March 07,2023
Traditional ceremonial scarves are presented to villagers in Pari Tibetan autonomous county, Gansu province, during Tibetan New Year celebrations on Feb 21. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Celebrations marking Losar, or Tibetan New Year, are held at different times on the Tibetan plateau, depending on altitude and harvest time, but each area boasts unique traditions.
Most people in the Tibet autonomous region celebrate Losar on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, and it is the most popular and typical festival heralding the start of a new year in the area.
Gyalpo Losar is marked in most places in the region and also in some Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
In Lhasa, the regional capital, Losar activities include preparing a vase of green barley seedlings at home, making various-shaped pastries, including those originating from ancient Tibetan Bon religion.
A droso chemar — a two-tier rectangular wooden box containing roasted barley and roasted barley flour mixed with butter — is placed on the offering table or in the dining room. The box is decorated with colorful ears of barley and butter sculptures.
In some areas of Nyingchi city in eastern Tibet, Losar is celebrated during the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar — the earliest Tibetan New Year — and is known as Kongpo Losar. Kongpo refers to people from some areas of Nyingchi.
According to local legend, a Kongpo king ordered his soldiers to fight enemies during the 10th month of the calendar. To prepare for battle, the king told his people to celebrate the festival two months earlier, a tradition that continues to honor the heroes who fought in the conflict.
Over time, this custom has been enriched with songs, dances, horse races, archery competitions and trade exchanges. Barley wine is also drunk to mark the occasion.
One of the most distinctive Kongpo Losar customs involves inviting a dog for a meal on New Year's Eve, when people offer tsok, a plate of food and drinks, including pastries, meat, butter, cheese, brown sugar, dried fruit, apples, butter tea and barley wine.
Residents believe certain items chosen by a dog have different significant meanings. If the dog bites into a pancake, this indicates a better harvest in the new year. If the animal chooses butter or cheese, this means prosperity for animal husbandry, while a dried peach selected by the dog means happiness and health.
The strange thing is that dogs rarely select meat on this night, but if one of them does, this is a sign that something terrible will take place in the coming year. Local people believe these dogs are commanded by the gods.
Archery is another special tradition for Kongpo Losar. On the second day of the new year, villagers stage an archery contest on open ground, with women offering delicacies and wine to the men while watching the game.
In Burang county, Ngari prefecture, Losar is celebrated during the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar — the second-earliest new year. According to local legend, people in this area were called on to battle an enemy, and King Norsang told them to celebrate the New Year before waging war.
Local elders said the tradition of celebrating Losar earlier than other areas was passed down due to climatic variations.
Kunsang Lhamo, who lives in Burang, said distinctive Losar customs in the area include making a stew known as guthuk from rice, instead of flour, which is commonly used for this purpose in most parts of Tibet.
"Burang is close to Nepal, and as rice has long been a staple food in this area, it is chosen as one of the main ingredients for guthuk," she said.
"Dressed in her best clothes on the night guthuk is eaten, the mother of a family presents a spoonful of the stew to a door, a pillar and the doorstep as an offering."
Most counties and districts in the cities of Shigatse and Nagchu celebrate Losar at the start of the 12th month. Shigatse residents refer to the festival as Sonam, or Farming Losar, while those in Nagchu call it Lochuang, or Pre-New Year.
Most activities for Sonam Losar and Lochuang are similar to those for Losar celebrations in Lhasa, but there are small differences — one of the biggest being timing. As a large area of Shigatse is devoted to farming, which typically begins during the first month of the Tibetan calendar, the festival is celebrated a month earlier.
Males in Shigatse typically wash their hair on the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar to wish for good fortune in the coming year, but females are not expected to do so on this day, as this activity is considered inauspicious.
A religious dance known as a cham is also performed by monks at Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse on the same day every year.

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