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Celebrating the Tibetan New Year in Shigatse

Recognition of a Cultural Treasure

The celebration of the Tibetan New Year in Shigatse, known as “Sonam Losar,” has been recognized as part of the first batch of Tibet Autonomous Region’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. This festival is unique to the region, occurring earlier than the New Year celebrations in Lhasa.

Traditions and Preparations for Sonam Losar


Starting from the first day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan calendar, which has now been unified to be celebrated in the first month, the preparations for the New Year begin. On the 29th day of the twelfth month, every household engages in cleaning, a ritual known as “Gucha.” Families light fires in their courtyards and paint the Eight Auspicious Symbols inside their houses. Men repaint the “Mani pile” (a sacred stone mound) in three colours: white, red, and black. They also wash their hair with “Wuta Siling Jiangba” to symbolize good fortune, but women do not wash their hair on this day as it is considered unlucky.

Culinary and Ritualistic Practices for Sonam Losar


Housewives clean cushions, tea tables, Tibetan cabinets, and silver bowls in preparation for the New Year. They also prepare offerings for the deities, including fried foods, “Droso Chema,” and ginseng fruits. On the evening of the 29th, rituals are performed to drive away evil spirits. After sending off the spirits, families eat “Gu-thuk” (a type of dough ball soup) and share what they find inside their portion, leading to cheers or laughter and enhancing the festive mood.

The New Year’s Eve


On New Year’s Eve, known as ‘the day of burning the stinking sheep’s head,’ men travel to distant mounds or cliffs to burn the sheep’s head, which they will offer on the first morning of the New Year. They must avoid burning the sheep’s head at home or nearby to prevent offending the spirits and inviting misfortune.

The Tibetan New Year in Shigatse is a vibrant and deeply spiritual celebration, reflecting the rich cultural tapestry of Tibet. It’s a time of purification, offerings, family bonding, and community festivities, embodying the spirit of renewal and hope that characterizes the onset of a new year. For visitors, experiencing Sonam Losar offers a unique glimpse into the traditions and cultural values of the Tibetan people.

The Tibetan New Year Celebrations in Shigatse: Day-by-Day Traditions


Celebrating the New Year: Traditions and Rituals

The New Year brings with it a host of unique and culturally rich traditions. From dawn to dusk, symbolic rituals and celebrations fill each moment, marking the beginning of a new chapter. Let’s delve into these traditions to gain insight into their significance and how they are celebrated.

Awakening with Dawn: Early Morning Rituals

The New Year’s Day begins with the brewing of alcohol, a task traditionally undertaken by the daughter-in-law or the eldest daughter. This ritual symbolizes the start of the New Year’s celebrations, infusing the household with the spirit of joy and anticipation.

Welcoming the Day: Chicken Crowing Ritual

The crowing of the rooster signals the first ritualistic serving of freshly brewed alcohol to family members. This unique tradition blends the old with the new, as family members then return to their slumber, waiting for the day to fully break.

losar derga
Losar derga

Greetings from Nature: Sunrise Prayers and Offerings

With the first light, younger family members engage in a sacred practice of climbing hillsides to burn incense and plant prayer flags. This act is a prayer for auspiciousness and good fortune in the year ahead. Meanwhile, elders, daughters-in-law, and children collect water and firewood, offerings to the water deity, symbolizing their hopes for prosperity.

The Essence of Morning: Sunrise Water Collection

The collection of water and firewood, known as “Nixia Qu Bei,” is a crucial part of the morning rituals. It represents a harmonious balance with nature and an offering to the deities for blessings in the New Year.

Exchanging Wishes: New Year’s Greetings and Offerings

Family members come together to exchange New Year greetings, symbolically offering flowers and “Zhuseqima” (barley flour) to each other. This exchange fosters a sense of unity and mutual goodwill.

A Hearty Start: Breakfast and Drasey Offerings

The New Year’s breakfast is a special affair, featuring a plate of Drasey and Changkol. This meal signifies abundance and is a vital component of the day’s celebrations.

The ritual of serving alcohol, followed by a hearty meal of barley porridge enriched with meat, milk residues, and ginseng fruit, is led by the daughter-in-law or eldest daughter. This practice is a blend of nourishment and tradition, setting the tone for the day.

Mid-morning and Noon Delicacies

Around 10 AM, light snacks such as fried snacks, baked flatbreads, buckwheat cakes, and twisted dough strips are served. The noon meal is a more elaborate affair with “Pacha Mamaku” or meat buns, symbolizing the heartiness and joy of the New Year.

The day’s celebrations culminate with a special dinner called “Khu-thug,” marking the end of the first day of the New Year with joy and togetherness.

Embracing Day Two: Honoring Deities and Strengthening Bonds


Paying Homage: Rituals for Deities, The second day dedicates itself to honoring the land and protective deities with sacrifices and offerings, reinforcing the community’s spiritual connections.

Community Harmony: Visiting Relatives and Neighbors. Also reserved for this day is the tradition of visiting neighbours and relatives, exchanging New Year greetings and strengthening communal bonds.

Day Three: Rooftop Ceremonies


Reverence and Reflection: Worship and Flag Planting

Continuing the New Year’s rituals, families engage in worship ceremonies on rooftops and plant prayer flags, symbolizing their prayers and hopes soaring high.

The Grand Finale: New Year’s Feast


Celebratory Closure: New Year’s Dispersing Banquet

The New Year festivities reach their zenith on the final evening with the “New Year’s Dispersing Banquet,” a time for joyous celebration and reflection on the year ahead.

In conclusion, the New Year’s traditions offer a deep insight into the cultural fabric of the community, weaving together rituals, family, and spiritual reverence in a vibrant tapestry of celebration.

These intricate rituals and celebrations of the Tibetan New Year in Shigatse are a vivid portrayal of the region’s rich cultural tapestry. Each day is filled with traditional activities, symbolizing blessings, unity, and the ushering in of good fortune. For locals and visitors alike, these celebrations offer a deep insight into the heart of Tibetan culture and community life.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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