Firecrackers and prayer flags, Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese food, Buddhist rituals, singing and dancing — together all indicate that Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is here.
The start of the Year of Iron Rabbit, which begins today, is a carnival for China’s 5 million Tibetans and celebrations will last more than two weeks.
Tibetan woman Yeshe Drolkar happily shared a huge pot of Guthuk, a traditional Tibetan barley crumb snack with filling, also known as “29th dumplings,” with a group of young men and women Thursday night to celebrate the “ghost-exorcising festival.”
The festival, which falls on the 29th day of the last Tibetan month of the year, features family reunions and lighting of fireworks and torches and is similar to Chinese New Year’s Eve in many ways.
Across the plateau region, New Year festivities are everywhere. The square in front of the Potala Palace in the heart of Lhasa is spruced up with a parterre, red lanterns and a huge “chiema,” a five-cereal container with roasted highland barley flour mixed with butter, fried barley and dromar refreshments, adorned with a butter sculpture in the shape of the head of a sheep.
The chiema is prepared in every Tibetan home and is served to every guest.
Other Tibetan New Year necessities include prayer flag trees, or Darchors, as replacing the colorful prayer flags on hilltops during the Tibetan New Year is believed to bring the Tibetans peace, compassion, wisdom, and strength.
“I buy new Darchors every year, because it’s a New Year custom to do so and will bring my family good luck and harmony in the New Year,” said Tsering, a Lhasa resident.
The prayer flags, which are available at local markets, have five colors, including blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Respectively, they stand for the sky, air, fire, water, and earth — the five essential elements believed to benefit Tibetan Buddhists.
By Friday morning, the Lhasa housewife Tsenga had prepared everything for the New Year. These included the chiema, the Darchor, fresh yak butter, tsamba, tea bricks, peaches made of barley flour and new clothes for her son Tenzin.
“Each item symbolizes a different wish for the new year,” she said, “such as sufficient food, good harvest, health and a new beginning.”
In the coming two weeks of celebrations, the Tibetans will also exchange New Year greetings, worship gods and race horses.