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Tibetan New Year

Losar -- the Tibetan New Year -- is the greatest festival in Tibet.

In ancient times when the peach tree was in blossom, it was considered as the starting of a new year. Since the systematization of the Tibetan calendar in 1027 AD., the first day of the first month became fixed as Losar, the New Year.

Tibetans begin preparing for New Year's Day in the 12th month in the Tibetan calendar, with initial activities including the use of green shoots of highland barley as offerings to the statues of Buddha.

Activities around the middle of the month include preparing fried wheat dough mixed with butter. The end of the month approaches with each household preparing a Five-Cereal Container containing items such as roasted highland barley flour mixed with butter, fried barley and dromar refreshments, adorned with highland barley ears and a butter sculpture in the shape of the head of a sheep. This is done to pray for a bumper harvest and better life in the coming year. The 29th day of the month arrives with Tibetans cleaning their kitchens and using dry wheat flour to paint eight auspicious patterns on the central wall. The whole family then gather in the evening to first eat dough drops known as Gutu in Tibetan, and then participate in a grand ritual designed to ward-off evil spirits.

New Year's Day of the new Tibetan year is actually celebrated on New Year's Eve. Lime is used to paint Swastika symbols on all doors; new woven rugs are placed in the newly cleaned rooms; and sacrificial objects such as fried wheat dough, fruit, butter, tea bricks and dried fruit are placed in front of niches holding statues of Buddha.

The first month of the Tibetan calendar features the greatest number of festivals of any month, with activities scheduled on almost a daily basis:

The entire family arises early on the first day of the month to worship Buddha. They adorn their holiday best and greet each other holding Five-Cereal Containers and high-land barley wine. This is followed by drinking hot pear wine and consuming Tuba oatmeal and dromar refreshments fried in butter, all of which were prepared the previous day.

The second day is dedicated to visiting relatives and friends.

The Grand Summons Ceremony begins in Lhasa on the fourth day of the month. Zongkapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, introduced the ceremony to Lhasa in 1409 to honor Sakyamuni who subdued evil spirits. Ceremonial activities begin with lamas from Lhasa's three major monasteries reciting Buddhist sutras, lecturing on Buddhism and debating Buddhist doctrines in front of the statue of Sakyamuni in the Jokhang Monastery. Highly successful participants are granted the highest Buddhist academic title known as Lharamba Geshi. The government distributes alms to lamas during ceremonial activities, with devout Buddhists from throughout the region refilling butter lamps and presenting alms. The ceremony lasts until the 25th day of the month when the monastery greets Maitreya.

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