Traditionally, spiritual and worldly cleaning preceded the New Year's festivities. Homes were painted, new clothes stitched, debts and quarrels resolved, good food was cooked, and intoxicants prepared in the run-up to New Year's Day. Monks held purification rituals, called pujas.
On the morning of the New Year, families rose before dawn, bathed, put on new clothes and fine jewelry. Offerings of barley flour mixed with butter and sugar and yogurt were then made at the family shrine representing the hope for a good grain harvest. After a visit to local monasteries, the family settled down to feasting and drinking.
In the night, the swishing sound of burning torches could be heard around a Buddhist home, as men whirled flaming torches over their heads in an effort to ward off evil spirits, sickness, dog bites, and other misfortunes from striking their family in the New Year.
As the days went on, festivities tended to get rowdier due to the consumption of large quantities of chang, home brewed beer.
For more than 50 years, however, Losar has not been such a happy event for Tibetans desperately trying to hold on to their lifestyle in their homeland. Chinese occupation, with the accompanying suppression of local traditions and customs, leaves little to look forward to in a new year.
A climate of fear and suspicion has settled over the country. Long prison sentences are dealt to any dissenter, like the nomad who got an eight-year sentence for calling out for the Dalai Lama’s return (he was accused of "inciting to split the country"); within the prisons, torture of the most un-imaginable kind is still exercised.
The one-child policy is now applied more often even to Tibetans who have never had a problem with overpopulation in their vast country. Refugees tell of forced sterilizations and forced abortions at any stage of pregnancy; even the killing of newborns through injections given by Chinese doctors or nurses has been reported.
Monastic life, once the center of Tibetan culture, is drastically curtailed. Monks are subjected to regular "re-education" sessions and have to denounce their loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Monasteries that used to house thousands of monks of all ages now are allowed less than one-tenth of the former population.
The list of horrors goes on and on.
What to do? Check out the website of the International Campaign for Tibet (www.savetibet.org) for all sorts of ways to lend a helping hand.