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Rituals, gatherings mark Tibetan New Year
By:China Daily
update:March 07,2023
Crowds attend a horse race to celebrate Tibetan New Year in Lhasa on Feb 23. PENGBO TASHI TSERING/FOR CHINA DAILY
Families in region make detailed plans for auspicious occasion that dates to the 11th century, or even earlier
Losar, or Tibetan New Year, is one of the most important festivals for Tibetans, as it signifies new hopes, expectations and good wishes.
Locals make numerous preparations for the celebrations, which date to the 11th century or even earlier, according to Tibetan scholars.
Yangchen Palmo, a researcher at the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing, said, "Tibetan astronomers formulated the theory for calculating the traditional Tibetan New Year in 1027 based on the theories of five elements — water, wood, metal, earth and fire — and the 12 animals of the zodiac based on traditional Chinese cosmology and ancient Indian astrological theory.
"At that time, 60 years was recognized as a cycle on the Tibetan calendar. The year 1027 — the Fire Rabbit Year on the calendar — was chosen as the first year of the first cycle. Since then, Tibetan New Year has become a traditional festival," she said.
Losar is celebrated not only in China, but by Tibetan communities worldwide, and was listed as one of the nation's national intangible cultural heritage items in 2011.
Most people in the Tibet autonomous region mark Losar, also known as Gyalpo Losar, on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.
However, residents in Shigatse and Nagchu celebrate Losar at the start of the 12th month. Those in Shigatse call it Sonam, or Farming Losar, while people in Nagchu refer to it as Lochuang, or Pre-New Year.
People in eastern Nyingchi celebrate Losar in the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar and call it Kongpo Losar — with Kongpo referring to those living in different areas of Nyingchi. Some places in the region's Ngari prefecture mark Losar in the 11th month of the calendar.
In Lhasa, the regional capital, Losar fell on Feb 21 this year, but the celebrations began up to two days beforehand.
Many preparations for Losar reflect the region's unique and rich traditional cultures.
Dancers perform in Tashi Choten village, Nedong county, Tibet autonomous region, during Tibetan New Year. [Photo provided to China Daily]
People choose a date a few days before Losar to clean their homes. This date is usually selected based on the Tibetan calendar, and monks are asked for advice on which day the ceremony should be held.
Known as dudchak, or cleanup, the ceremony must only be held on certain days of the Tibetan calendar.
On the day selected, family members empty their household trash in a certain direction outside their home, with the direction varying each year. Tibetan people believe that cleaning on a certain day brings them good luck and drives away evil in the coming 12 months.
On the 29th day of the 12th month in the Tibetan calendar, just before Losar, people traditionally eat guthuk, a stew with nine ingredients, to prepare for a fruitful new year.
The stew is prepared from yak meat, cheese, vegetables, dough balls, with some of the latter containing symbolic ingredients such as salt, pepper and beans, or even thread, wool, paper and coal dust.
Dekyi Drolma, a Lhasa resident, said: "Every ingredient has a meaning. If you taste a dough ball made with pepper, it means you have a sharp tongue, but a soft heart."
According to Tibetan beliefs, if a person picks a dough ball that is too salty, it means he or she is lazy. Selecting one made with beans indicates a person is not good at making decisions, while a wool filling indicates a good heart, and a paper filling means a person is gullible.
Hearty pots of guthuk are enjoyed during Losar, and the ritual involved in making this meal is also a way to educate the younger generation in choosing between good and bad.
Residents hang prayer flags on top of Ngachen Hill in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, as part of New Year activities. PENGBO TASHI TSERING/FOR CHINA DAILY
Shrine table
The 30th day of the 12th month on the Tibetan calendar marks Namgang, or New Year's Eve, one of the busiest days of the year for families making preparations. In addition to cleaning, derkha, or various food and objects, are placed on an offering table in the family shrine room.
On the first day of Losar, residents usually prefer to stay at home, while from the second day, they welcome each other for gatherings.
Those working in government sectors in cities are given a seven-day holiday for Losar in addition to the weeklong Spring Festival vacation. In rural areas, the celebrations may last for 15 days.
Items offered on the shrine table include fruit, a tea leaf "brick", butter and salt. A droso chemar — a two-tier rectangular wooden box containing roasted barley and roasted barley flour mixed with butter — is among the objects placed on the offering table or in the dining room.
Auspicious designs adorn the droso chemar, which is decorated with colorful ears of barley. It also features tsedro, a wooden section that includes sculptures of the sun, moon and Tibetan patterns made from yak butter and pigments. Nyemo county, Tibet, is known particularly for making tsedro.
A sheep's head is another auspicious New Year item for Tibetans, as it is used both as a decoration and a meal during the celebrations.
In the Tibetan language, a sheep's head is known as lukgo, which is similar to lo'go, or the start of a year, and symbolizes a good beginning and prosperity from livestock.
Locally produced highland barley wine typically offered in silver-plated wooden bowls is also used to celebrate Losar, along with air-dried yak meat. The meat is bought in winter and hung in the wind for several weeks. Most families offer this dish to their guests, and take smaller pieces of the meat with them to family gatherings.
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]
Local pastries are made and traded during Losar. Dough balls produced from wheat flour and rapeseed oil are used to make the pastry, which is pressed into sheets. The dough is then cut into various shapes, which are fried in oil.
People also place a flowerpot containing green shoots from grain in their shrine room or living room during Losar — a tradition known as lophud, which refers to a new offering and symbolizes a bumper harvest in the new year.
On the third day of Losar, residents hang prayer flags on their roof or on top of a hill. The flags are expected to bring peace, happiness, good fortune and health for all.
In addition to rituals, feasts and family gatherings, new year galas are organized in most places. Cham, a religious dance ritual, is performed by monks in some monasteries, and numerous other rituals and activities take place.
Besides dancing, singing and gatherings, Losar activities in some parts of the region include horse racing, rolling dice and hosting Tibetan opera performances.
Residents offer barley wine to each other during Tibetan New Year in Lhasa. PENGBO TASHI TSERING/FOR CHINA DAILY

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