February 05, 2019
In February, the people of Nepal, Tibet and many neighboring Asian countries begin preparations for a holiday known as Losar, which celebrates the start of the new year. The term Losar is derived from two words: Lo, meaning year, and Sar, the word for new.
Losar is celebrated in Nepal mostly by the Sherpa, Tibetan, Tamang, Bhutia and Yolmo people. Gyalpo Losar, specifically, is the celebration of the Tibetan new year. The following account is typical of the celebrations of the Sherpa people, although different communities in Nepal have their own versions of the holiday.
According to ancient lore, Losar was first celebrated when an old woman named Belma introduced the measurement of time based on the phases of the moon.
During ancient times, people went to the local spring to perform rituals of gratitude. Offerings were made to the Nagas, or water spirits, who activated the water element in the area, and smoke offerings were made to the local spirits associated with the natural world. Traditionally, these rituals took place for an entire month leading up to new year’s day.
Today’s Losar celebrations typically last about two weeks, following the latter half of the lunar cycle from Falgun Shukla Pratipada, waxing moon, to full moon. The celebrations revolve around food, family and festivities. Losar traditionally begins with participants preparing a special Sherpa snack – Khapse, a deep-fried pastry commonly eaten during the Losar that symbolizes the start of holiday celebrations.
Two days before the Losar, everyone in a Sherpa family gathers and enjoys a special soup called Gutung, which is prepared with a combination of nine different kinds of beans. Tradition states that each member of the family should have nine bowls of this soup. Gutung is also served with a special type of dumpling, which contains different hidden objects used in the place of fillings. These hidden items are often strange, such as wood, salt, or even coal, and are jokingly meant to relate to the character of the person they are chosen for.
The day before Losar, families gather to clean and decorate their homes. That same evening, once the clock strikes midnight, the traditional greeting “Tashi Delek” is exchanged, and friends and family stay up late to welcome each other to the new year. The following morning many Sherpa change the Dhoja, or prayer flags, in their homes, symbolizing a fresh start to the year. The day continues with a special beverage called Changkol, made from Chaang (a Tibetan version of beer). People celebrate by singing or dancing to traditional Sherpa songs, eating and drinking.
While Gyalpo Losar lasts two weeks these days, many of the celebrations take place during the first three days. In the afternoon, people get together and continue the celebration. Many traditional ceremonial dances representing the struggle between demons and gods are performed at local Monasteries. Mantras are chanted, and fire torches are passed among all the people in the crowd. Children often enjoy Losar the most as the environment is festive and full of delicious food, sweets and gifts.
In the evening, the celebrations wind down and families and loved ones all sit down to have dinner, marking the beginning of the new year. Although the traditions of Losar have adapted for modern times and busier schedules, the joy, energy and essence of Losar are still the same.
For more information on how Sherpa people celebrate different cultural festivities, read our How The Sherpa Celebrate Dumji blog.