china edition


Tibetan New Year

Date: January 1st on Tibetan calendar
Venue: Tibet

The Tibetan people had long ago developed their own astronomical calendar according to the distinctive features of the highland. The Tibetan calendar, which was officially adopted in 1027, is a combination of the solar and lunar calendars. According to this calendar, a year is divided into 12 months, each month ranging from 29 to 30 days.

People in different parts of Tibet do not celebrate the New Year on the same day in Lhasa, for example, the Tibetan New Year falls on the first day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar; in places south of the Nyangqu Rivers it falls on the first day of the 12th month; in Oamdo, it is the first day of the 11th month.

Preparation for the New Year begins a month in advance. People conduct general house cleaning for the coming New Year. Every family sprouts qingke barley seeds in water and puts the seedlings before the family shrine as a prayer for an abundant harvest. A phyemar, or five-grain bucket, is a must. The bucket is vertically divided into 2 halves by a wooden board and filled with zanba (roasted qingke barley flour with butter) and barley seeds and decorated with barley ears and colored butter.

Tibetan New Year

On the New Year's Eve, the family gets together and eats a kind of food called guclu, or guthug, which is made of wheat flour. Inside the gudu is a bit of wool or charcoal or some peas, pepper, or other objects. If one finds wool in his gudu, he is said to be kindhearted; if he comes upon a piece of charcoal, he is black-hearted. After the reunion meal, bonfires are lit everywhere.

As New Year's Day dawns, housewives go out to fetch the so-called "auspicious water" after which they wake other family members to get up and water the animals. New Year's Day water is regarded as the most auspicious. It is believed that this symbolizes favorable weather, bumper harvest and good luck for everything in the coming New Year. People on this day generally do not go out but stay home to celebrate the special occasion with their family members.

For a full day, the family members eat zanba and drink qingke wine (made from highland barley). Each of the family members picks a handful of zanba and throws it up into the air to worship the gods. They pop a few grains of zanba into their mouths and chew them, then wish the elders good luck and lasting happiness. After that, they sit down to drink qingke wine. They go on drinking from noon to night and many become very drunk by the afternoon.

The second day is a day for visiting friends and going out for entertainment. People go out to greet other families, relatives, and friends and wish each other "Tashi Delek", (good luck). To closer friends, they also exchange hada (a white silk strip) to express their respect. To offer hada, one must present it with both hands as a sign of respect and say something kind.

The Tibetan New Year is the greatest festival celebrated on the highest plateau in the world. Various festivities add a colorful atmosphere and gaiety to this mysterious and marvelous land.