With Hesitation, Tibetans Welcome New Year

Yonten Jampa wore traditional Tibetan clothing to the new year celebrations at Himalayan Yak in Queens. (Photo by Prazwol Panta)

Although the Tibetan government in exile has asked its people not to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, in mourning for the almost 100 self-immolations worldwide protesting Chinese repression, a Nepalese restaurant in Queens hosted its first Losar festival on February 12.

“We are here today not because we want to party and have fun,” said Nepal-born Tibetan Yonten Jampa, 50, “but because this is our culture and we just want to honor it, especially in a foreign land, so that our children don’t forget and neglect it.”

Attired in a Tibetan national costume, Jampa enjoyed the traditional foods and the prayers sung at the Himalayan Yak in Jackson Heights. The more than 50 people in attendance exchanged greetings of “Tashi Delek!” to celebrate the new year.

“Before 1949, Losar was celebrated elaborately for 10-15 days but after the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the celebration doesn’t last that long, considering the fact many Tibetans have fled to different parts of the world,” said Jampa, who has been living in Queens for 10 years. “It is not the same anymore.”

“We are culturally Tibetan,” said Tenzing Ukyab, co-owner of Himalayan Yak. “By that I mean born in Nepal but following Tibetan culture. We are not Tibetan citizens in exile, but we still feel for the pain in Tibet, and we respect why the Tibetan government in exile asked its citizens to hold off the elaborate celebration of Losar.”

The Tibetan calendar comprises of 12 lunar months, and Losar begins on the first day of the new year. Though it was originally observed for 15 days, the main celebrations occur during the first three days: Losar Eve (Lama Losar), Losar Day (King Losar) and the day after Losar (Choe-kyong Losar). Each day brings its own celebrations, rituals, worshipping, and special foods.

Singer Sonam Lhamo volunteered to sing prayers at the Losar event in Queens. (Photo by Prazwol Panta).

“Losar is the most important day for us Tibetans. I celebrate it with my friends and loved ones each year. There hasn’t been a time I missed Losar,” said Sonam Lhamo, a classical singer who has been living in the United States for about six years. She was one of the many who volunteered to sing prayers and inspirational Tibetan songs at the restaurant.

After singing, Lhamo sat down to enjoy such traditional Tibetan dishes as Guthuk, a noodle soup that is eaten only once a year. She said that the ingredients you find hidden in your plate’s dough ball are supposed to reflect your own character. If a person finds chilies in their dough, that means they are talkative. Salt, wool or rice inside the dough is considered a good sign. If a person finds coal in the dough, it means one has a “black heart.”

Traditional foods and decorations for the Tibetan New Year. (Photo by Prazwol Panta)

Since Tibetan and Mongolians adopted the Chinese calendar, Losar occurs near or on the same day as the Chinese and Mongolian new years. Like in the Chinese calendar, each year in Tibet is associated with one of 12 animal signs, but they start the year on different dates and the months have different lengths.

Ukyab said that Himalayan Yak intends to celebrate Losar every year from now on.

“We are all here today not because the suffering of Tibetans is not in our thoughts,” he said, “but because it’s our only culture and what we follow, believe and teach.”

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  1. Pingback: VoicesofNY article on Tibetan culture | DaCultureVulture

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