What is Losar?

What does Losar mean in Tibetan?

Losar is the Tibetan meaning “new year”. ‘Lo‘ means year and ‘sar‘ means new.

What is Losar and when is it celebrated?

Losar is the Tibetan New Year festival and is the most important festival celebrated by Tibetans all over the world.

The Tibetan calendar is a lunar calendar, so the year is composed of either 12 or 13 lunar months, each beginning and ending with a new moon. A thirteenth month is added approximately every three years, so that an average Tibetan year is equal to the solar year.

Each Tibetan year is represented by an animal and an element. There are 12 animals that are cycled through, these are, in order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, Boar and the elements are: water, wood, iron and fire. Find out your animal and element here.

The 12 animals of the Tibetan Zodiac and their associated meanings

  • Rat: Intelligence, hard work, quick thinking, but also greedy and deceitful.
  • Ox: Reliability, determination, strong work ethic, but also stubborn and inflexible.
  • Tiger: Courage, strength, determination, but also impulsiveness and anger.
  • Hare/Rabbit: Compassion, grace, and diplomacy, but also indecisiveness and sensitivity.
  • Dragon: Strength, power, good fortune, but also arrogance and stubbornness.
  • Serpent: Wisdom, intuition, healing abilities, but also cunning and a tendency to manipulate.
  • Horse: Freedom, independence, and a strong spirit, but also impulsiveness and restlessness.
  • Sheep/Goat: Kindness, gentleness, and creativity, but also indecisiveness and a tendency to follow others.
  • Monkey: Intelligence, wit, and adaptability, but also cunning and a tendency to take risks.
  • Bird: Communication, creativity, and a love of freedom, but also indecision and a tendency to be flighty.
  • Dog: Loyalty, honesty, and a strong sense of justice, but also stubbornness and a tendency to be critical.
  • Pig/Boar: Generosity, determination, and a love of comfort, but also a tendency to be lazy and materialistic.

In Tibetan astrology, the four elements – fire, earth, water, and wood – are associated with different animal signs and years. Additionally, iron is also considered an element in Tibetan astrology. Each of these elements is believed to have certain qualities and characteristics, both positive and negative. Here’s a brief explanation of each element:

  • Fire: The fire element is associated with the horse and the sheep in Tibetan astrology. It is said to represent passion, warmth, and creativity, as well as impatience, anger, and aggression.
  • Earth: The earth element is associated with the ox and the dragon in Tibetan astrology. It is said to represent stability, reliability, and groundedness, as well as stubbornness, rigidity, and dullness.
  • Water: The water element is associated with the pig and the rat in Tibetan astrology. It is said to represent fluidity, flexibility, and adaptability, as well as fear, indecisiveness, and lack of direction.
  • Iron: The iron element is associated with the bird in Tibetan astrology. It is said to represent sharpness, precision, and intellect, as well as cruelty, ruthlessness, and destructiveness.
  • Wood: The wood element is associated with the tiger and the rabbit in Tibetan astrology. It is said to represent growth, creativity, and energy, as well as impulsiveness, recklessness, and restlessness.

Where is Losar celebrated?

The Tibetan New Year is celebrated mostly in Tibet, India, Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan.

Is Losar the same as the Chinese New Year?

Losar starts on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar when the new moon is sighted. Losar and the Chinese New Year often begin on the same date, but sometimes they might have a difference of a day, or even a whole month.

How do people celebrate Losar?

During the festival of Losar, it’s traditional to wear new clothes. People greet each other with the customary New Year greeting of “Tashi Delek” (good luck) and visit monasteries, stupas and shrines to make offerings and donations in the form of food and other gifts to the monks and nuns. They also visit family and friends and exchange gifts in various forms.

Preparations for Losar begin almost a month before the festival begins with the cleaning and whitewashing of homes and shopping for the great feasts. Hectic preparations are made two or three days before the New Year with the finest decorations called ‘Lama Losar’. Various kinds of rituals are organised to avert negativity of the Old in the New Year and to ward off all forms of evils.

Finally, on the dawn of New Year, the Dalai Lama traditionally would have led the abbots of three great monasteries in Tibet. Now in-exile, the Dalai Lama leads the abbots of Namgyal Monastery and Lamas. The monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo (Female Goddess, One of the Two Protectors). To wish His Holiness the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated long-life pills (tse-ril) are offered by the representatives of the three great monasteries and Tantric Colleges.

Then entertainers perform a dance of good wishes, followed by a debate about Buddhism by two senior monks, where a whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is briefly reviewed. Requests are made to His Holiness and holders of the Samara doctrine to serve for life-long through their enlightened activities. It is concluded with a ceremonial farewell to His Holiness.

The second day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness exchanges greetings with monastic, lay and foreign dignitaries.

On the third day, people and monks celebrate in all colours and enjoy New Year. Before the 1950s and the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Losar was celebrated for fifteen days or more. For Tibetans in exile , it has been minimised to three days.

What food do people eat during Losar?

This is a time when one gets to enjoy Guthuk (soups made from different kinds of vegetables and even wine) the whole night. For fun, ingredients like chillies, salt, wool, rice and even coal are hidden in dough balls and given out. If a person finds a chilli, they are considered talkative. If a person finds coal, they are regarded to have a ‘black heart’. Finding wood, rice etc are considered as a ‘good sign’. These are taken lightheartedly.

Want to celebrate Losar?

Why not host your own Tibetan themed dinner party? Come together over a delicious spread and help raise awareness about the challenges facing Tibetans, all while celebrating Tibetan culture.

Check out this recipe for Dresil, Tibetan sweet rice. Need some tips on what to make? Drop us an email, we’d be happy to help.

Stay informed!

Interested in: