Losar New Year, based on the Buddhist calendar, is observed in Bhutan, Tibet, and by certain people groups of Nepal and India. “Losar” comes from the Tibetan words “lo,” meaning “year,” and “sar,” meaning “new”.
|2020||25 Jan to 26 Jan||Sat to Sun||Losar New Year|
Note: 2019 is the Year of the Earth Female Pig; 2020 is the Year of the Male Iron Rat.
The Losar New Year celebration begins with “Nyi Shu Gu” (Losar New Year’s Eve) and continues, in some parts of Bhutan, for two full weeks. The first three days of the New Year, however, have the biggest celebrations.
In the earliest times, Losar New Year was kept around the time of the winter solstice, but the date was later moved to occur on or near the Chinese and Mongolian New Years. This normally puts Losar New Year in February or March on the Gregorian calendar.
As Losar New Year approaches, Bhutanese begin to prepare by cleaning their homes and making special offerings at temples called “Lama Losar.” Old possessions are often gotten rid of and new ones bought this time of year as well. Temples and monasteries are ornately decorated for the occasion, and special “puja” rituals are done at monasteries.
On New Year’s morning, breakfast is eaten just at sun rise, and various rituals are observed. A meal at noon and a mid-afternoon snack are also traditional. Families often go on picnics together, and it is a day that mixes celebration with relaxation.
Later in the day, local Losar festivals are held all over the nation, where there is abundant feasting, singing, and dancing. Games such as darts and archery are played, archery especially being prominent because it is the national sport of Bhutan. Everyone greets each other with “Tashi Delek!,” which is a wish for abundance and good luck on the one addressed.
Those traveling in Bhutan during Losar New Year may wish to take part in any of the following activities:
- Try the dough balls often given out this time of year, which have special “treats” hidden in the centre. The contents are meant to symbolise the receiver’s character traits and are often used as jokes. For example, a chili pepper inside means you talk too much. Salt, rice, or something white inside means you are a good person. Black coal in the middle, however, means your heart is hopelessly black.
- Try some other festive Losar foods, such as guthuk, a noodle made out of nine ingredients, including grains and a kind of dried cheese, fried biscuits, sugar cane meat, green bananas, fermented rice, mandarin oranges, a plethora of teas, and a tasty sweet called “shudre.”
- Visit Punakha, once the capital of Bhutan before it was moved to Thimphu. There, you can see the Punakha Dzong, the old palace that sits at the junction of two rivers and is meant to symbolise Buddhism architecturally. When it was built, in 1637, a major Losar New Year celebration took place there, which has been observed annually ever since. The Punakha festival is one of the most important of all the Losar festivals held across all Bhutan.
Bhutan is a small country and Losar New Year celebrations continue for 14 days, which means you have plenty of time to visit multiple locations and see how festivities vary from place to place.