UPDATED with more details about Losar, July 2, 2016.
It’s exciting to be back home in Rebgong (Reb gong, Tongren)—the home still nearest and dearest to my heart, even after making a new home in the West. Returning to my roots for Losar, the Lunar New Year, is special.
Traditionally, Losar falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. This year, it’s February 19, 2015, of the Gregorian calendar.
Losar is the grandest and most widely celebrated tradition in all three regions (Kham, Lhasa, and Amdo) across the Tibetan plateau. From a cultural perspective, it’s like Christmas for Westerners, except the Tibetan New Year in our corner of the world lasts 18 days.
Losar mixes sacred and secular rituals but is primarily for laypeople. Year after year, we relish this heritage of what the New Year holds. Ancient traditions practiced on Losar eve and the next morning, symbolizing purification and greeting the new. Included are rituals of sang—offerings of smoke and fabric—to please local spirits and deities. In Reb gong (Rebkong) of Amdo, the Bön and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners perform a series of religious ceremonies from the 7th through the 16th. Bön cham (sanctified dance), the Gelugpa Monlam Chenmo, great prayer festival, the butter lamp festival, the unfolding of a massive Buddha painting, and a showcase of sculptures of sacred art made of dri (female yak) butter at monasteries are part of the Losar celebration.
For the general public, Losar preparation is a serious, elaborate business for weeks. It includes yearly deep cleaning of the house and shopping for gifts, specialty food items, and alcohol. It is also the time to make a variety of treats and bake breadstuffs for gift giving.
Luckily, I arrived home one day before my aunt’s last day of baking. Watching her and her daughter-in-law bake 33 of 54 total pieces they needed reminded me of my girlhood trying to help my grandmother and mother produce many crusty pieces of bread. With round gor thud, oval kha thud and holed go re na ji, Rebgong loaves boast a hundred-year-old fermentation. It’s the way it has been baked since a time before active dry yeast was invented.
Although Tibetans use electronic equipment and easier baking techniques on a daily basis today, it is this centuries-old method of earth baking that makes the “Reb gong bread” well-known and contributes to the famed “Amdo bread.” And only traditional baked goods like these are used for Losar gifts.
A gift package included the combination of a large piece or two of cooked meat and shole (a slender deep-fried bread), fruits and steamed dumplings stacked seven-high and wrapped up tight atop a loaf of this kind of special bread.
This ritual of bread making is what Tibetan women continue to practice for all special occasions—and especially for Losar.
I am hungry now.