2019 Festival Calendar
February 5 – 7 – Losar – Tibetan New Year festival
June 17 – Saga Dawa: the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death
August 30 – September 5 – Shoton Festival (yogurt festival)
Losar – Tibetan New Year festival
The Tibetan New Year is celebrated at the beginning of the 1 month according to the Tibetan calendar. The preparation for the New Year starts with painting a rectangle cereal container called ”Chemar“ for making contributions to Buddha. Tibetans fill up “Chemar” with butter, mixed barley cakes, baked barley seeds, and ginseng nuts. ”Chemar“ is decorated on the outside with barley ears, cock-flowers, and butter made plates.
When New Year’s day breaks, people hold ”Chemar“ and highland barley wine to greet each other by saying” Tashi Delek”. which means “Good wishes and happiness”. During the several following days, people sing and dance and visit relatives and friends. They drink together and pray for happiness in temples or monasteries. No one is allowed to do any household chores on that day.
Butter Lamp Festival
Tibetans celebrate the Butter Lamp Festival on the 15th date of the January according to Tibetan calendar. Lamas from every temple and monastery and civil craftsmen make butter flowers with colored butter and hang them on the shafts in front of Jokhang Temple. They create vivid and eye-catching sculptures of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa, and his two disciples, eight auspicious symbols, birds, and animals. Drepung, Sera, Ganden monasteries and Jokhang display elaborately made butter sculptures. People sing and dance under the lamps till daybreak.
The Saga Dawa is the Buddha’s Anniversary festival and one of the most important festivals in Tibet. Its common name is “The Festival of Setting Captive Animals Free”. All lamas and laymen do not eat meat and do not kill animals during the whole April month of Tibetan calendar. They pay their homage to Buddha, and chant sutras. It is believed that Sakyamuni was born, enlightened and died on the 15th day of the April month. Every year that day people gather by the Dragon king pool, rowing boats and singing songs. They picnic and dance in the garden.
During the Saga Dawa festival, monks perform a religious dance called Cham Dance. Monks wear masks representing different deities. The dance’s primary purpose is not to entertain the public, but rather to attract luck and happiness. The costumes are bright, colorful and heavily decorated, making the dance an interesting and rarely seen event.
You can enjoy the Cham Dance at the Tsurphu and Dregong monasteries during the Saga Dawa festival. You can also see the dance in Samye monastery during the Tsechu Festival celebrated on May 15th of the Tibetan calendar.
In 2019 Saga Dawa celebrations starts on June 17. If you wish to visit Tibet during that time, consider joining our special group tour to Mount Kailash during the Saga Dawa festival»
Read more about the Saga Dawa festival: dates, how to celebrate, what places to visit»
Paying Homage to the Holy Mountain Festival
The 4th of June in the Tibetan calendar is a religious festival for the front Tibetan area. It is believed to be the day when Sakyamuni first preached a sermon with the prayer wheel. On this day, people go to monasteries and temples to pay their homage to Buddha, to offer joss-sticks and to circumambulate holy mountains. In addition, they arrange picnics and spend the day singing and dancing in the fields.
The Shoton Festival
Tibetans celebrate Shoton or yogurt festival in summer and it is one of the most popular festivals in Tibet. Many pilgrims visit Lhasa, the capital of Tibet during that time. City and monasteries are decorated in preparation for it.
Traditionally, monks had a prolonged retreat during the summer months and stayed within the monasteries. At the end of the retreat, Tibetans would bring them yogurt to celebrate the end of the retreat and to express gratitude to monks.
Later the celebration grew bigger and opera performance in the Norbulingka park became an important part of it. Nowadays Tibetans celebrate Shoton festival for a week, spending beautiful summer days in the park watching opera and enjoying a picnic with friends and family.
We offer a special tour during which we will join crowds of Tibetans and celebrate this event together.
The celebration begins early morning on June 30th of the Tibetan calendar. People gather at the foot of Drepung Monastery, waiting for the first event of Shoton Festival. Monks unfold the giant embroidered Thangka. The image of the Buddha is displayed on the hill and can be seen from the great distance. Pilgrims walk around the Drepung monastery to reach the Thangka display, then walk around the painting to get its blessing.
After visiting Drepung, pilgrims head towards Sera monastery where they can see another Thangka. Monks unroll it later in the day and it is possible to see both ceremonies in one day.
From the first day of the festival, Tibetan drama troupes perform operas in Potala Palace and Norbulingka. Tibetans dress up in traditional clothes and visit Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama to watch the spectacular performance. People settle for a picnic in the park and spend the day watching the opera and visiting palaces and temples in the park.
Visiting Tibet during Shoton festival is an exciting opportunity to participate in one of the most important events in the life of Tibetans. You will have a very close interaction with the people around you. Many Tibetans travel from remote areas to visit the capital during that time. Pilgrims wear their best traditional dress, some are very different in style and decorations than what you can usually see in Lhasa and Central Tibet.
The Bathing Festival
Tibetans celebrate the Bathing Festival from 6th to the 12 of July, according to the Tibetan calendar. It is exactly the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, wind moderates and the sunshine on the Plateau. Tibetan people, old and young, man and woman, from towns or countryside or pastoral areas, go to riversides to take a holy bath. Tibetans believe that it can heal diseases and help them stay fit.
It is a holiday of Tibetan, looking forward to the harvest. Tibetans celebrate Wongkor festival when crops are ripe, and the festival lasts three to five days. People dress uphold colorful flags with good wishes, carry a ”harvest tower“ built with barley stalks and ears. They sing and dance, beat drums and walk around the fields. On this day, people are also enjoying horse-racing. Then they start the intense autumn harvest.
The Fairy Maiden Festival
Every 15th day of the October month in Tibetan calendar is the Maiden Festival. People perform religious activities. Tibetan women regard it their own holiday, so they are more active and energetically than men.
This special tour takes you to the sacred Mount Kailash during the biggest festival of the year. Saga Dawa Festival celebrated the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from all around Tibet, India and the world. You will see the greatest diversity of Tibetan national dress as people wear their best clothes for the festival.
visit Tibet during one of the most spectacular events during the year – Shoton or Yogurt festival. During this festival Sera and Drepung monasteries display giant religious paintings – Thangkas. This even happens only once a year and you can watch how monks unroll the thangka for people to walk around it and get a blessing. Only a few hours later thangka is rolled back up and stored until the next year. The festival falls on the summer day and it is a great chance to experience authentic Tibetan culture.