Losar (Tibetan: ལོ་གསར་) is the number one most popular festival in Tibetan Buddhism. The holiday is celebrated on various dates depending on location (Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan all have various dates and traditions). The holiday is a new year’s festival, celebrated on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar, which corresponds to a date in February or March in the Gregorian or western calendar. In 2018, the new year commenced on the 16th of February.
Losar, or Tibetan New Year, is celebrated for 15 days, with the main celebrations on the first three days.
Tibetan New Year is a time when family gathers together and then pilgrims travel to monasteries to watch teachings, dances, and ceremonies that convey the teachings of Buddhism.
The Tibetan New Year is a time of eating and drinking unique foods. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang (a Tibetan cousin of beer). The second day of Losar is known as King’s Losar (gyalpo losar). Losar is traditionally preceded by the five-day practice of Vajrakilaya.
Because the Uyghurs adopted the Chinese calendar, and the Mongols and Tibetans adopted the Uyghur calendar, the Tibetan New Year celebration occurs near or on the same day as the Chinese New Year and the Mongolian New Year, but the traditions of Losar are unique to Tibet, and predate both Indian and Chinese influences. Originally, ancient celebrations of Losar occurred solely on the winter solstice and was only moved to coincide with the Chinese and Mongolian New Year by a leader of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism.
In Tibet, various customs are associated with the holiday:
Families prepare for Losar some days in advance by thoroughly cleaning their homes; decorating with fragrant flowers and their walls with auspicious signs painted in flour such as the sun, moon, or a reversed swastika; and preparing cedar, rhododendron, and juniper branches for burning as incense. Debts are settled, quarrels are resolved, new clothes are acquired, and special foods such as kapse (fried twists) are made. A favorite drink is chang (barley beer) which is served warm. Because the words “sheep’s head” and “beginning of the year” sound similar in Tibetan, it is customary to fashion a sheep’s head from colored butter as a decoration. Another traditional decoration that symbolizes a good harvest is the phyemar (“five-grain bucket”), a bucket with a wooden board that creates two vertical halves within. This bucket is filled with zanba (also known as tsamba, roasted qingke barley flour) and barley seeds, then decorated with barley ears and colored butter.