Tibetan Festivals, Tibetan New Year, Great Prayer Festival Monlam

Join one festive event during your visit in Tibet and it will surely add more to your memory of the snowland.
Tibetan New Year is the most important festival there. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and expect that the coming year will be a better one. Known as Losar, it starts from the first to the third day of the first Tibetan month. Preparations for the happy event are manifested by special offerings to family shrine deities, painted doors with religious symbols, and other painstaking jobs done to prepare for the event. People eat Guthuk (barley crumb food with filling) on New Year’s Eve with their families. Eating Guthuk is fun since the barley crumbs are stuffed with a different filling to fool someone in the family. The Festival of Banishing Evil Sprits is observed after dinner. Signs that the New Year is approaching when one sees lit torches, and people running and yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. Before dawn on New Year’s Day, housewives get their first buckets of water for their homes and prepare breakfast.

After breakfast, people dress up to go to monasteries and offer their prayers. People visit their neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek blessings in the first two days. Feast is the theme during the occasion. On the third day, old prayer flags are replaced with new ones. Other folk activities may be held in some areas to celebrate the events.

Religious dance in Great Prayer Festival Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival, falls on the fourth up to the eleventh day of the first Tibetan month. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama’s order. It is the grandest religious event in that area. Religious dances are performed and thousands of monks gather for chanting before the Jokhang Temple. Examinations taking form of sutra debates for the Geshe degree, the highest degree in Buddhist theology, are also held. Pilgrims crowd to listen to the sermons while others give religious donations.

The Butter Lamp Festival, Chunga Choepa in local language, falls on the fifteenth day of the first Tibetan month. The event was also established by Tsong Khapa to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. Giant butter and Tsampa sculptures varying in forms of auspicious symbols and figures are displayed on Barkhor. People keep singing and dancing throughout the night.
Butter Lamp Festival On the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month is Saka Dawa. The day is believed to be the time when Sakyamuni was born; stepped into Buddhahood, and attained nirvana. The locals believe that a merit is an accumulation of a myriad of merits from previous days, months or years. People refrain from killing animals by liberating them and abstain from eating meats. Sutra chanting, prayer turning, Cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the occasion. Offering sacrifices to the female deity enshrined in the temple on the islet of the Dragon King Pond, boating in the pond and picnicking add more to the festive mood.

Lantern Festival, Yuan Xiao Festival, Shang Yuan Festival

The Lantern Festival, also known in China as the Yuan Xiao Festival or Shang Yuan Festival, falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It marks the end of the Spring Festival celebration and is also the first major festival after Chinese New Year.  On that day, family members gather to have a brilliant night, so ancient people also call it Shangyuan Festival . Celebrations and traditions on this day began from the Han Daynasty and became popular in the Tang Dynasty. Till today, the lantern festival is still held each year around the country.


With a history of over 2,000 years, various traditional customs and activities are held during Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including eating Yuanxiao,  watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles and performing folk dances.  In ancient China, young ladies were not allowed to go out freely except at the time of the Lantern Festival. Appreciating the lanterns offers a good chance for young boys and girls to communicate with each other. A line from Xin Qiji, a poet during the Song Dynasty, shows this:

Hundreds and thousands of times I searched for her in the crowd. Suddenly I turned, and there she stood, in the dim light.

However, as time has passed, the festival no longer has such a meaning of a  romantic story.

Eating Yuanxiao


Eating Yuanxiao has become an essential part of the Lantern festival.  Yuanxiao, also called Tangyuan,  is a small dumpling ball made of sticky rice flour typically filled with sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or peanut butter, which tastes sweet and delicious. What’s more, Tangyuan in Chinese has a similar pronunciation with “tuanyuan”, meaning reunion. The Chinese people believe that Yuanxiao is round in shape so it is a symbol of reunion, harmony and happiness. So eating Yuanxiao may bring the family happiness and good luck in the new year. During the night of the festival, family members sit together to taste Yuanxiao and appreciate the full moon.

Appreciating Lanterns

Appreciating red lanterns is one of the main traditions. According to the Chinese tradition, at the very beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. when the festival comes, red lanterns can be seen in the street, in each house, and store. In the parks, lanterns of various shapes and types attract countless visitors. Children will hold self-made or bought lanterns to walk on the streets, extremely excited.

Guessing Lantern Riddles

Guessing riddles is regarded as an important part of the Lantern Festival. The riddles are usually short, wise, and sometimes humorous, which often contain messages of good fortune, family, reunion, harvests, prosperity, and love. The answer to a riddle can be a Chinese character,a famous person’s name, or a place name. People write all kinds of riddles on pieces of paper, and paste them on colorful lanterns to let visitors guess. If one has an answer to a riddle, he can pull the paper to let organizers check the answer. Gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers. As riddle guessing is interesting and full of wisdom, it is still popular with people of all ages.

Setting Off Fireworks


On the night, except for magnificent lanterns, fireworks form a beautiful scene. Most families spare some fireworks from the Spring Festival and let them off in the Lantern Festival. Some local governments will even organize a fireworks party. On the night when the first full moon enters the New Year, people become really excited by the fantastic fireworks and bright moon in the sky

Performing Folk Dances

In the daytime of the Festival, folk dances such as a dragon  dance, a lion dance, a land boat dance, and a yangge dance will be performed in the street or a park. All the people enjoy the happiness in this moment.

Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Lunar New Year

The Spring Festival is a traditional Chinese festival and the most important one of the whole year. In 2020 Chinese New Year festival falls on Jan. 25. It is the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese zodiac, which features a 12-year cycle with each year represented by a specific animal.


Chinese New Year has a far-reaching history of over 3,800 years. The origin of the festival can be traced back to the worshiping activities in China’s ancient agrarian society. The date for the ceremony wasn’t fixed till the Han Dynasty, when Emperor Wudi commanded to use the lunar calendar.

The historical reason for beginning the new year in such a time is that it is the time between autumn harvest and spring plowing and planning. In other words, it is the time for rest, relaxation and celebration after a year’s toil.

Except this practical reason for celebrating the Spring Festival, a popular Chinese legend offers another explanation, which is affectedly known in China.

In ancient time, a mythological demon called” Nian” that lived under the sea would plague people once a year on the even of the new year. It jumped out from the sea, attacked villages, devouring people, animals and plants.  Could no longer bear Nian’s brutal persecution, the villagers gathered to discuss how to deal with” Nian” and some people suggested that the demon was afraid of loud noises, red color and flame.

So people lighted firecrackers, put on red couplets on their gates, lit firework and beat gongs and drums to drive Nian away. The idea worked and Nian ran away.  Since ever, the custom and tradition of celebrating the Spring Festival born and the practice of putting red couplets on gates, setting off firecrackers, etc have been passed down.


1.Sweeping the dust

“Dust” is homophonic with “chen” in Chinese, which is means old and past . In this way, “sweeping the dust” before the Spring Festival means a thorough cleaning of houses to sweep away bad luck in the past year. This custom shows a good wish of putting away old things to welcome a new life.

2.Pasting spring couplets

“The spring couplet is a special from of literature in China. the spring couplet is composed of two antithetical sentences on both sides of the door and an inscription, usually an fortunately phrase, above the gate. The sentences pasting on the right side of door is called the first line of the couplet and the one on the left is the second line. On the eve of the spring festival, every household will paste on doors a spring couplet written on red paper to give a happy and prosperous atmosphere of the festival.

3.Pasting paper-cuts and “up-sided Fu ”

Paper-cuts, usually with lucky patterns, give a happy and prosperous atmosphere of the festival and express the good wishes of Chinese people looking forward to a good life. In addition to pasting paper-cuts on windows, it is common for Chinese to paste the character “fu”, big and small, on walls, doors, and doorposts around the houses. “Fu” shows yearning toward a good life. Some people even invert the character “fu” to signify that blessing has arrived because “inverted” is a homonym for “arrive” in Chinese

4.Stay up late on New Year’s Eve

The tradition of staying up late to see New Year is originated from an interesting folk tale. In ancient China there lived a monster named Year, who was very terrible. Year always went out from its burrow on New Year’s Eve to eat people. Therefore, on every New Year’s Eve, every household would have supper together. After dinner, no one dared go to sleep and all the family members would sit together, chatting and emboldening each other. Gradually the habit of staying up late on New Year’s Eve is forward. Thus in China, “Cerebrating the Spring Festival” is also called “passing over the year”.

5.The CCTV New Year’s Gala

The New Year’s Gala is a variety show held by China Central Television since 1983. For every year at the turn of the Lunar New Year, the program begins at 8:00PM and lasts five or six hours. For over twenty years, its value has gone far beyond a variety.

6.Giving Red Envelopes

From newborn babies to teenagers, luck money will be given by seniors, wrapped in red packets in the hope of dispelling evil spirits from the kids. CNY 100 to 500 notes are commonly sealed in a red envelope, while there are big ones with up to CNY 5,000 especially in the rich southeast regions. Besides a small disposable amount, most of the money is used to buy the kids toys, snacks, clothes, stationery, or saved for their future educational expenditure. Read more about Red Envelope.



For people from northern China, the dumpling is a must-have on the dinner table on Chinese New Year’s Eve. The shape of the dumpling resembles the gold ingot from ancient China. So eating dumplings means a wish for treasure and good fortune.

Rice Cake

Made of glutinous rice flour, rice cake has been in Chinese cuisine since the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Gold and white rice cakes become the symbols of gold and silver. And the Chinese character for cake is gao whose homophonic means growth, improvement or greater accomplishment.

Whole Fish, whole Chicken

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, all family members get together to have a big meal. The way of cooking fish and chicken may vary across China, but the symbolic meaning of these two dishes is always brimful happiness and good fortune.