The Tibetan New Year is known as Losar, it is the most important holiday in Tibetan Buddhism and is celebrated for 15 days typically during the months of January and February. The word Lo means year and Sar means fresh or new. In 2013, the Losar holiday will begin on February 2, 2013. The holiday is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the new lunar year. Tibetans burn incense, make sacrificial offerings and bow to local spirits and deities; this act is known as puja. Pujas are performed at home first with immediate family, and then with distant relatives and friends on the second day. Losar is additionally celebrated in Nepal, Bhutan and India.
Tibetan family’s regularly purchase new calendars to celebrate Losar. Tibetan calendars have a 2,000 year history and experts in astrology and Tibetan culture are needed to calculate the dates. These calendars not only provide Tibetans with the new dates of important religious events but act as an indicator to farmers on when to plant and harvest their crops.
Tibetans make long pilgrimages to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in order to celebrate their festival. While in Lhasa, Tibetans partake in traditional dances, hang flags, chant mantras and play music. Before making their pilgrimage, they clean out their houses of old items to reduce the amount of evil spirits associated with the past and often purchase or make new clothing.
Tibetans also write the eight auspicious symbols in monasteries in front of Buddha statues. The eight auspicious symbols include the parasol, the two golden fish, the conch shell, the lotus blossom, the banner of victory, the vase, the dharma wheel and the eternal knot.
Two Golden Fish- symbolize the state of fearlessness
The Conch Shell- symbolizes the Dharma teachings
The Lotus Blossom- symbolizes the purification of the body
The Banner of Victory- symbolizes the victory over one’s own body
The Vase- symbolizes long life, wealth and prosperity
The Dharma Wheel- symbolizes the Buddha’s doctrine
The Eternal Knot- symbolizes the dependence of religious doctrine and secular activities
On the first day of Losar, known as Lama Losar, Tibetans meet with their spiritual advisors and make offerings of sprouted barely seeds, and tsampa, which is roasted barley flour with butter. This day is restricted to spending time with family members. A common phrase used to wish fellow Tibetans a happy new year – it is pronounced Tashi Delek or “auspicious greetings.”
The second day of Losar, known as Gyalpo Losa, requires Tibetans to pay homage to all public officials in Tibetan villages, towns and cities. People are then allowed to celebrate with friends and often enjoy drinking chang, a Tibetan rice wine.
Choe-kyong Losar, the third day of Losar, behooves Tibetan citizens to make sacrificial offerings to the spirits that protect their communities. Prayer flags are raised, and juniper leaves are burnt. These are the three main days of the holiday but Losar does not officially end until the Butter Lamp Festival, which takes place 15 days later than the start of Losar.
Because of the recent episode of self-immolations, Tibetan leaders have asked for Tibetans to celebrate Losar with peaceful prayers instead of festivities.