Losar – The Tibetan New Year

Prayer wheels at Samye Monastery, founded in 779 AD, located at the foot of Mt. Hepo Ri.

Tibetans will mark their New Year (called Losar) on Sunday, February 14th, this year. In the Tibetan lunar calendar, this day marks the beginning of the Iron Tiger Year 2137, a time for change, hope, and renewal.

Last year, Tibetans around the world united and did not celebrate the day as a protest against the escalation in Tibet of the imprisonment, torture and death of Tibetans under Chinese rule.

Losar is celebrated for 15 days (with the main celebrations occurring on the first three days) by Yolmo, Sherpa and in Bhutan, although different regions in the country have their own respective new years.

This year, many Tibetans are planning to observe Losar as a show of solidarity and will speak Tibetan language, wear Tibetan dress, and observe Tibetan customs.

The celebration of Losar predates Buddhism in Tibet and can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist Bön period. In this early Bön tradition, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and protectors.

This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers’ festival.  Later when the rudiments of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer’s festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year’s festival.

The Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is the day before the Tibetan New Year’s Eve.

On that Eve, monasteries do a protector ritual make a special noodle called guthuk. Dough balls are given out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. What you find in your dough ball is supposed to be a lighthearted comment on your character. While chilies means a talkative and white-colored ingredients (salt or rice) are good signs, finding coal is similar to the Western idea of finding coal in your Christmas stocking – you have been bad and so have found a “black heart.”

Tibetans and supporters around the world can light butter lamps and candles on their altars and in their windows on February 14th to honor the courage of the Tibetan people in Tibet who continue to resist the Chinese government’s occupation of their homeland.



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