Year of the Firebird gets traditional welcome

By Palden Nyima and Daqiong in Lhasa | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-03-17 10:25

Year of the Firebird gets traditional welcome

Tibetans mark new year with ancient customs and guthuk, a symbolic stew for 15-day Losar

Fireworks, burning juniper branches and pilgrimages to monasteries - families across the Tibet autonomous region have been taking part in traditional celebrations for Losar, the Tibetan New Year.

The Year of the Firebird started on Feb 27, and celebrations lasted for 15 days.

The annual event is marked by many customs. For example, in the suburbs of Lhasa, the regional capital, families place a bag of dried yak dung by their gates and a bucket of clean water in their living room, which symbolizes auspiciousness.

People also place dried fruits, candies, fried bread and chemar boxes - made with a mixture of roast highland barley flour and butter - at shrines, while cheese, dried yak meat, highland barley wine and others drinks are laid out in living rooms.

Losar celebrations vary in different parts of Tibet. While most people mark Losar on the first day of the first month on the Tibetan calendar, people in the Xigaze prefecture celebrate Sonam Losar at the start of the 12th month, and those in the eastern Nyingchi prefecture celebrate Kongpo Losar in the 10th month. The variations have arisen from the respective areas' elevations and harvesting patterns.

One regionwide custom is guthuk - literally "nice stew" - which takes place on the 29th day of the 12th month.

"Guthuk is a stew made with dough balls wrapped that includes at least nine symbolic substances, such as salt, thread, pepper, wool, coal dust and beans," said Basang, 54, who spent Losar with her family in Lhasa.

"Every substance is symbolic: If you bite into a ball made with pepper it means you have a sharp mouth but a soft heart; salt means you're lazy; wool means you're kind; coal means you're greedy; and sheep dung means you struggle to make decisions."

After eating the guthuk, the head of the family will roll balls with roasted barley powder, which guests will touch and then throw along with a clump of burning dried grass. This action represents saying farewell to all the negativities and inauspicious aspects of the previous year.

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