TIBETAN NEW YEAR LOSAR

TIBETAN NEW YEAR LOSAR

Losar or Tibetan New Year is a widely celebrated holiday, and celebrations usually last for 15 days. The first three days are the most important, and Tibetans usually spend these days with their closest family members and friends. On the first day, many Tibetans visit Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace to make donations, greet Lamas, and receive blessings. 

The day before the start of the New Year, Tibetans bid farewell to the previous year and start making plans for the year to come. On the first day of the New Year, Tibetans welcome it, making offerings to prepare themselves for a fresh start as they enter the New Year. 

At the beginning of the New Year, congratulate a Tibetan with the phrase “Losar Tashi Delek!”

WHEN IS TIBETAN NEW YEAR

Tibetan New Year in 2024: February 10th, 2024
2024 will be the year of the Wood Dragon.

Tibetan New Year in 2025: February 28th, 2025
2025 will be the year of the Snake.

Tibetan New Year in 2026: February 18th, 2026
2026 will be the year of the Horse.

Tibetan celebrating Losar Tibetan New Year
Tibetan celebrating Losar Tibetan New Year

Tibetan New Year is celebrated according to the Lunar calendar. Although Chinese New Year is also celebrated based on the Lunar calendar, the dates are usually different. Tibetan New Year typically falls on February or March of the Gregorian calendar.

Each year has an element and animal associated with it. There are 12 animals in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog and Pig. They repeat at the end of each cycle. Elements are associated with 2 years in a row and follow the order:  Fire, Earth, Iron, Water, and Wood. The tradition of associating every year with an element is deeply rooted in beliefs about our connection with the world and its elements around us, and the sacred nature of these elements. According to Tibetan beliefs, each of the elements has its own protectors – Nagas.

Even within Tibet, traditions of celebrating Losar are different. In Shigatse, located only about 260 km to the South of Lhasa, Tibetans celebrate New Year one month earlier. Traditionally, many farmers were living in this region, and with the milder climate compared to Lhasa, their farming season starts earlier. To be able to start working on time, Tibetans in Shigatse region traditionally celebrated New Year earlier. 
Similarly, in Kongpo, the Eastern part of Tibet, Tibetans celebrate New Year 3 months earlier compared to Lhasa.

WHAT IS LOSAR

Tibetan New Year is called Losar. The history of this celebration goes back to the time when Bon was the main religion in Tibet. Tibetans were burning incense as an offering. After Buddhism spread in Tibet, Losar transitioned into being the New Year celebration.

TIBETAN NEW YEAR CELEBRATION

Celebration of Full Moon day in Jokhang Temple

Since New Year is one of the favorite and most anticipated holidays for all Tibetans, they start preparing for it well in advance. Tibetans living in remote areas of the Plateau flock to Lhasa to buy and sell goods in preparation for the holiday season. Lhasa markets become very busy with sellers offering traditional New Year decorations. The phrase “sheep head” sounds similar to the “beginning of the New Year” in Tibetan, and sculptures of sheep’s heads became a traditional decoration displayed in every Tibetan home. For many families, it is also time to refill their stock of yak meat, tsampa, butter, cheese, and other Tibetan staples. The equally important task is to buy new clothes to have a fresh start with the new year.

WEEK BEFORE THE NEW YEAR

Torma figures made of flour and butter
Torma sculptures made of barley flour and butter

The week leading to the New Year Tibetans spend cleaning their homes and cooking tasty specialty dishes. The most popular dishes include fried pastries and homemade beer “chang”. Tibetans also prepare all necessary offerings and decorations for their altars and homes, such as fresh wheatgrass and flowers, fruit and sweets, incense, and offering scarves. Elaborate butter sculptures – Torma are offered in front of the altar. 

These butter sculptures are a form of art and many monasteries display very elaborate and beautifully decorated sculptures that serve as blessings. The butter sculptures serve as reminders about impermanence and have to be destroyed, but as with everything in Tibetan culture, they are never wasted. At the end of the celebrations, they are usually offered to animals.

Everything has to be ready before New Year’s Day, because the entire first day Tibetans will spend celebrating and enjoying time with their families and friends, and there will be no time for any chores.

NEW YEAR’S EVE

The beloved New Year’s Eve Tibetan tradition is gathering with the family to eat Guthuk – noodle soup with fortune-telling dough balls. Each family member gets a dough ball with different fillings that have a prediction for next year.
In the evening, Tibetans flock to the streets to enjoy fireworks.

NEW YEAR DAY

Jokhang Temple, view from the Barkhor Square in Lhasa, Tibet
Jokhang Temple in Lhasa

On the first day of the New Year Tibetans rise early, dress in new traditional clothes, make offerings in front of the altar, and start celebrating. They enjoy specialty meals, including sweet rice cooked with root and fruit, fried pastries, and of course “chang” beer. The first day is traditionally spent at home with immediate family members.

Jowo Shakyamuni statue in Jokhang Temple on the first day of Losar Tibetan New Year

CELEBRATION CONTINUES

Sunrise over the houses in Lhasa, Tibet
Prayer flags on the rooftops of houses in Lhasa

Tibetans enjoy celebrating New Year for 2 weeks. On the second day, many Tibetans stay at home to spend more time with family, while others start visiting the homes of their friends or relatives. When visiting other homes, Tibetans bring auspicious deeper “chemar bo” – a wooden box with traditional offerings. The box contains tsampa, roasted barley flour, mixed with butter and barley grains. 

On the next day, Tibetans start visiting monasteries and temples to make offerings and burn incense. At the beginning of the New Year, Tibetans help to replace prayer flags on the high poles in front of the Jokhang temple. Tibetans will also hang new prayer plays on the rooftops of their houses and buildings. The five colors of prayer flags symbolize a natural element.

WHAT TO SEE DURING THE NEW YEAR

Tibetans in traditional dress walking down the stairs
Tibetans wearing traditional dress

On the first few days of the New Year, many Tibetans visit monasteries and temples. Tibetans wear their best traditional clothes. Since many Tibetans are coming to Lhasa from different parts of Tibet, you can see an incredible variety of different styles and decorations. It is probably the best time to enjoy people-watching and experience the traditional way of life of Tibetans.

Tibetan New Year is a holiday that locals usually celebrate with family and friends. There are no large festive activities. Since many locals come to offer donations to monasteries, all important monasteries and temples in Lhasa are open on this day but are often very crowded.

TRADITIONAL NEW YEAR FOOD

Guthuk traditional Tibetan New Year Eve soup

Guthuk is a traditional soup with dough balls served on New Year’s Eve. The soup is made with nine ingredients that typically include yak meat, white radish, dried cheese, small hand-made noodles, onion, beans, tomato, spinach, and cilantro. But some families cook vegetarian versions of this soup as well. 

The most important additions to this soup are dumplings with special objects inside, each with a different meaning. When the family members sit down for dinner, each gets one of these dough balls that serve as a personal characteristic of this person. 

Some examples of fillings are coal, onion, bean, wool, coin, chilly, salt, symbols of the sun and moon, cotton, and paper.

Drolma Dresil: sweet rice mixed with butter, fruit, and Tibetan sweet roots.

Fried pastries: the pastries often have elaborate shapes and are prepared in advance to enjoy during the New Year Time.

Chang: Tibetan barley beer.

SHOULD YOU VISIT TIBET DURING THE TIBETAN NEW YEAR

Group visiting Western Tibet

There are several reasons why you may want to visit Tibet during the Tibetan New Year time:

  • You can see Tibetans wearing their best traditional outfits.
  • The streets of the cities look very beautiful: Tibetans repaint many houses in preparation for New Year, clean the streets, and hang new window decorations.
  • There are very few tourists during this time and you will see the more traditional way of life of Tibetans.
  • Weather is clear most of the time in winter, while temperatures are still very comfortable in Lhasa and nearby areas.

There are also a few things to keep in mind if you are planning to visit during the Tibetan New Year:

  • Almost all Tibetan-owned businesses, such as tea houses and restaurants, will be closed during that time.
  • While New Year is a great time to see the life of Tibetans, there are no large festive activities.
  • If you want to extend your visit to other areas in Tibet, you need to be mindful of the weather. During the colder winter months, you can travel from Lhasa to Everest, but more remote areas, such as Mount Kailash in Western Tibet are typically too cold to travel there.

OTHER FESTIVALS IN TIBET

Main festivals celebrated in Tibet

Traveling during one of the larger festivals is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in rich Tibetan culture and experience traditions and local customs.

View the calendar of upcoming festival celebrations and scheduled tours.

Saga Dawa festival

The festival celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinirvana. It is one of the best times to visit Mount Kailash.

Shoton Festival

During Shoton or Yogurt festival Tibetan artists perform traditional operas, andmonasteries display large Buddha paintings.

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