Tibetan people call the Tibetan New Year Losar. Losar is not an actual word but rather it’s a combination of two words: “Lo” means new and “sar” means year. The holiday begins the first day of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and lasts 15 days. Losar is the most important traditional festival of the year in addition to being the first. It is so important that Tibet is actually closed off to independent foreigners during this time so not many outsiders have actually seen the festival. The festival goes back to the time before Tibetan Buddhism when Tibet was controlled by its original religion: Bon. These ancient people had a winter festival where they prayed for protection from deities. As time passed the event was eventually absorbed by Tibetan Buddhism.
Preparations for the holiday typically start in mid December. Families place tsampa, ghee, and highland barley as sacrifices in the home. They soak the highland barley seeds in water to make them grow inch long seedlings in the New Year season. All of these are then sacrificed in the center of the altar at home to pray for a good harvest in the coming year. They also do a thorough sweep of the house in order to make sure the entire house is clean enough- with particular attention to the kitchen. Tibetan people believe that they must clean away the dirt or bad luck from the past year and since the kitchen is considered the most important part of the home (because food is made there) it is especially important that the kitchen be clean.
On New Year’s Eve one of the most fun rituals occurs. One is supposed to eat Gutu noodles which are dough balls. The skin is made of highland barley and there are various fillings with different meanings. For instance, if someone eats one with rice and salt in the ball it’s a sign of having good fortune in the near future. After eating the Gutu an exorcism ritual is performed. The male host lights the torch and then goes to every corner of the house shouting “get out get out” in order to drive out the past year’s bad luck.
On the first official day of Losar there is the “water grab”. In this the wife has to carry back the first bucket of water which is called the “golden water” and the second bucket is called the “silver water” which indicates good fortune, luck, and wealth. After sunrise neighbors go to each other to pass on blessings, respect highland barley wine, and recite the long held “Tashi Del Pin Songcuo” and “Emma Pedragong Kangsang” which represent auspiciousness, health, happiness, and harmony. Afterwards families gather behind closed doors together. Additionally, many farmers who are Buddhist will visit the Jokhang temple in Lhasa to pray for peace and health in the new year.
For the second day of Losar friends and family begin to visit each other for New Year’s greetings which typically last three to five days. When met they will immediately bless each other “Tashi Delek” and give each other a Khata. Then the host will ask the guest to enter the house and sit down. After sitting down the host will bring out “Chema” and the guest will pinch a small bit of highland barley and tsampa in Chema and spread it into the air thus praying to heaven, earth, and gods. Then, they pinch a little more in the mouth. Afterwards the host will bring highland barley, wine, a wine bowl, and invite the guests to drink. As a sign of respect for the host, guests should bottom up the drink. If you can’t finish drinking the host will entrust relatives and friends to sing in order to persuade the wine. After singing the guests must finish the wine. It is, also, common to see Tibetan men and women in costumes gathering to dance the Guozhuang and Xianzi to celebrate the New Year.
The third day is called “Yosei” in Tibetan which translates to offering sacrifices and prayers at high places. People in Lhasa will go to the roof balcony to simmer mulberries and put new prayer flags on a corner of the roof. Neighbors will once again exchange blessings and many people will travel in groups to the front of the Jokhang temple and the Baoping mountain in the west to simmer mulberries, insert prayer flags, and pray for blessings. After the three day celebration, Tibetan Losar will continue to be celebrated until the 15th of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.