The ultimate time of gift giving—the season of Christmas celebration in the West—reminds me of my traditions on the Tibetan plateau.
Almost all Tibetans, who live in the high mountains, deep valleys, and on grasslands, practice Buddhism. Giving or offering is a large part of our culture, and its meaning deepens when referencing our ancient rituals and philosophy.
Today, though, I will stick to traditional gift giving in everyday life in Rebgong (Reb gong རེབ་གོང་།), Amdo, where I grew up. In general, baked goods, dairy products, colorful fabrics, fruits, candies, and money are all appropriate gifts in Tibetan culture. However, what you will receive depends on the occasion and whether the giver is from an agricultural area or a nomadic.
Rebgong is a cultural hub of food, literature, and the arts. “Reb gong art” is known internationally. What’s more, it’s also famous for baking “Reb gong Bread” as they call it. I have vivid memories of my grandmother and mother baking countless loaves for others. Grandma, though, brought home meats and dairy-based gifts when she visited her nomadic family.
One of the most important gifts from my agricultural area is Go Re Na Ji (གོ་རེ་སྣ་གཅུ། ring-shaped bread) or Reb gong Na Ji Na Ji (སྣ་གཅུ།) comes in all sizes, from the size of a giant donut to as large as 20 inches in diameter. It’s commonly given to children of all ages and is part of the gift package when we celebrate a newborn on its seventh day of life, signifying welcome and auspicious blessings. Go Re Na Ji is also given to newlyweds atop huge oval bread called “kha thud.” The implication is hope for a baby in the near future.
I received one Na Ji months ago during a visit home in Tibet. This gift is one that I’ve been receiving since I was a little girl. It costs no more than $2 U.S. dollars if I purchased it at the market, but it’s rather a sentimental piece for me.
Given the background, a mature woman like me receiving this ring-shaped bread is only normal from certain people. In this case, it’s my uncle’s family. Their house is where my great-grandfather lived, whom I visited daily as a child while he was still alive. Even after his passing, I spent many happy days there with my young cousins. So, it’s an open secret that they have a special place in my heart and I in theirs.
In a sense, I am still seen as a child in the eyes of my sweet uncle and aunt. Hugs, concern, and affection are all combined in one piece of Na Ji. It’s always presented when I leave after a lovely meal. Every time I visit them, I know I will receive this very special gift.
Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year!