I haven’t celebrated Losar in many years, and normally I just get to eat the leftover khapsey. Which I love to dip into tea and munch away! Losar is the Tibetan Lunar New Year, which happens to fall around the same time as the Chinese Lunar New Year and Korean Lunar New Year. Although sometimes Losar can fall at a different time than the other New Year’s as well.
This year my friend said that I would be able to celebrate Losar with this family in Amdo, as when I happened to go it would be Losar in Amdo province. I was confused when I looked online since Losar was actually a month later on the English online websites for Tibet holidays. Later, I found out that sometimes Tibet’s 3 provinces can have different times to celebrate Losar. Which to me was a really fascinating cultural fact and shows just how large Tibet really is.
We made the drive to my friend’s house, which took about 2 hours from where we were, because we had to go through the mountains and grasslands. Even in January the scenery was still beautiful and I saw so many yaks! ( I think they are super cute!)
When we arrived to his house, I was ushered into the room with the choesham (altar), where I was asked to take a seat. I looked around and was so surprised by the abundance of food and drinks on the tables in preparation for Losar. I was offered a cup of cha (tea with yak milk) within a few minutes of sitting. The room was stunning with its woodwork, altar, and a large cast iron stove in the middle of the room for warmth and cooking.
The night before Losar started the whole family started making momos (Tibetan dumplings) around 10 pm and finished at midnight. I was surprised how late everyone was up chatting and cooking up a storm. Since there was nowhere to sleep inside, my friend and his brothers slept in a tent with a heating stove, and his sisters and I slept in a small shed with a mini heater that worked for 2 out of the 3 nights we were at his house. The first night the sky was lit up with fireworks around midnight. I have never seen fireworks go off so close to me in my life, so it was really cool, and quite loud!
The next morning we rose early and had a traditional Losar breakfast which includes rice with these red beans and sugar. The beans are only found above 3000 meters (9842 feet) and are a local food for special occasions. Soon the rounds of relatives visiting each other began to stream into the room. Many were surprised to see me sitting there, but everyone smiled or told me to eat or drink more. For lunch we had lots of food to eat like Korri (large fried bread), dry yak meat, some veggies and yak tongue! The yak tongue was pretty good for trying it the first time.
At one point, I left with my friend and his brothers to go visit a few more relatives in his village. Where I was offered more tea and food. I learned you are supposed to eat at every place, though you can eat slowly or politely decline food if you don’t want anymore. Each house was different and yet similar in many ways. After going to two houses we headed back for dinner, which was thukpa ( hand-torn noodle soup). We played different games with the family. One game was just passing the mandolin around and playing it, everyone could play better than me. I have no skills, hahaha. Then we played a game where we passed the khata (white scarf around) and the person who was caught with it, had to sing a song. It was a lot of fun drinking and playing games, even if I couldn’t understand most things.
The next day, we walked around to a few more houses, and then we had to drive and see his grandmother on his dad’s side who lived a little further out. She is nomadic so he told me that their house isn’t very nice, because they only need it as a place to stay in the winter. Once the weather gets warmer they head out to the grasslands again with their animals and move from place to place.
I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to see a traditional Losar being celebrated with lots of family nearby. What kind of foods are eaten and how some foods vary from home to home. One of the nice things about everyone living in the same village is that you get to see everyone when you are home for the holidays. I often wonder how much that weighs on my friends in exile since most of their family doesn’t live with them, how that has impacted how Losar is celebrated.
My favorite food, khapsey, isn’t part of the Amdo Losar, it is part of the Utsang (Central Tibet/Lhasa Area) Losar. Instead Amdo people have Korri for Losar to have with their tea. I learned the words for eat and drink since I heard it so many times so it is committed to memory now. I hope that someday I get the opportunity to have my friend celebrate a holiday with me and my family, and possibly I can celebrate Losar again in the future with my Tibetan friends and their families!
It’s very late, but Losar Tashi Delek!