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Tibetan Festival Calendar 2020

Tibetan Festival Calendar 2020
Festivals Date Date Description Sect of Tibetan Buddhism Locations and Venues of the Festivals
Tibetan lunar calendar Gregorian calendar
Tibetan New Year The 1st day of the 1st month 24-Feb The celebration starts on the 29th day of the 12th month in Tibetan lunar calendar, and usually lasts for 3 days. All the sects Lhasa
Butter Scriptures and Butter Lamp Festival The 15th day of the 1st month 9-Mar Highlights: butter scripture works display and ritual dance by monks.   Gelug Sect Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Ta'er Monastery in Xining and Labrang Monastery in Gansu
Cham Dance Festival at Tsurphu Monastery The 10th day of the 4th month 1-Jun Tsurphu Monastery is the first monastery of Kagyu Sect (White Sect) of Tibetan Buddhism. Kagyu Sect Tsurphu Monastery is 70 km from Lhasa
Saga Dawa The 15th the 4th month 5-Jun Commemorate the birth, enlightenment and parinirvana of Sakyamuni All the sects Mount Kailash in Ngari, Jokhang Temple in Lhasa
Cham Dance Festival at Drigong Ti Temple The 24th the 4th month 14-Jun The annual summer dharma assembly includes the ritual dancing (named Cham in Tibetan language). Kagyu Sect Drigong Ti Temple is 140 km from Lhasa
Buddha Unveiling Festival at Tashilunpo Monastery the 15th of the 5th month 5-Jul Buddha thangka unveiling Gelug Sect Tashilunpo Monastery, in Shigatse
Buddha Unveiling Festival at Ganden Monastery the 15th of the 6th month 3-Aug Buddha thangka unveiling Gelug Sect Ganden Monastery, 56 km from Lhasa
Horse Racing Festival in Gyantse To be confirmed To be confirmed Horse racing, arrow shooting, dancing All the sects Gyantse County, 260 km from Lhasa
Horse Racing Festival in Nagqu To be confirmed To be confirmed Horse racing, arrow shooting, dancing All the sects Nagqu, 330 km from Lhasa
Shoton Festival The 1st day of the 7th month 19-Aug Tibetan drama and Buddha thangka unveiling Gelug Sect Drepung Monastery, in Lhasa
Bathing Festival The 8th of the 7th month 26-Aug This is a one-week long collective bathing activities for all Tibetan. All the sects This happens in the riversides of the suburb or countryside
Gongbu New Year The 1st day of the 10th month 16-Nov Highlights: exorcizing the demons, inviting dogs to feasts, carrying water. All the sects Gongbu County, in Nyingchi
Goddess Festival the 15th of the 10th month 30-Nov In memory of the goddess Palden Lhamo, the guardian of Jokhang Temple and Lhasa, now functions as a women’s festival as well. All the sects Jokhang Temple, in Lhasa
Butter Lamp Festival The 25th of the 10th month 10-Dec Commemorate the Parinirvana of Tsongkhapa Gelug Sect Jokhang Temple, in Lhasa
2021 Tibetan New Year The 1st day of the 1st month, 2021 12-Feb-21 The celebration starts on the 29th day of the 12th month in Tibetan lunar calendar, and usually lasts for 3 days. All the sects Lhasa

Brief introduction to Tibetan lunar calendar

Similar with Chinese lunar calendar, each year in Tibetan lunar calendar represents one animal. And each year also symbolizes one of the five elements, fire, earth, iron, water and wood. 2020 in Gregorian calendar is the Year Iron Mouse 2147 in Tibetan lunar calendar. And the twelve animals are Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, Boar, Mouse, Ox, Tiger.

The calculation of Tibetan lunar calendar is complex. The regulation is that in different months, some day might be skipped and some doubled. In every month, there are 29.5 days. After a round of every 30 months, there will be one month added into the system. There are either twelve or thirteen months in a Tibetan calendar year.

So, the fun fact is that, in some year, the Tibetan New Year falls on the same day with the Chinese New Year. In others, there will be one-month gap between the two lunar calendars. Because there are not stable twelve months in each year of Tibetan calendar, accordingly, the right way to address a month or date is by ordinal numbers. For instance, we would say the first day of the first month of Tibetan calendar is when Tibetan New Year is celebrated rather than using January 1 to refer to the date.

Tibetan New Year Celebration
Tibetan New Year Celebration

Facts about the several new year festivals celebrated in Tibet

Tibetan New Year, with the alternative name in Tibetan, Losar, marks the beginning of a Tibetan calendar year. Some regions in Tibet celebrate the regional new year festival earlier than the widely-celebrated Tibetan New Year, because of the large geographical size leading to different harvest time in that particular region. Some region has their own new year because of a historical tale. In Gongbu County, Nyingchi, people celebrate their new year on the first day of the tenth month in Tibetan calendar, which is two months earlier than the whole Tibet region. In Shigatse, people celebrate the local new year one month prior to the common Tibetan new year, which is on the first day of the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar.

The close bond between Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan festivals

It has been fourteen centuries since Tibetan Buddhism became the most influential religion in Tibetan-inhabited areas. And besides the thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns, most of Tibetan lay people are also devotees of Tibetan Buddhism. Religion has been closely connected with their daily life. They take great significance of the spiritual world and pay humble attention to material life. Therefore, in almost all Tibetan festivals, can be found the trace of religion. Among them, the most important religious festival is Saga Dawa, which is to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Sakyamuni.

Pilgrims Assemble at Mt Kailash during Saga Dawa Festival
Pilgrims Assemble at Mt Kailash during Saga Dawa Festival

Buddha thangka unveiling-the most grandeur and frequent religious event

Buddha unveiling, one of the most intriguing parts of rituals in Tibet, is to display a giant Buddha thangka to the Buddhists and faithful pilgrims. It also has a practical function which is to give the painting a proper sunbathing so that the thangka could be free from mildewing and being damaged by worms. Along with the two Buddha thangka unveiling events in Tashilunpo Monastery and Ganden Monastery listed in the table above, Drepung Monastery (during Shoton Festival celebration) is also a great place to participate this ceremony.  

Buddha Unveiling Ceremony at Drepung Monastery during Shoton Festival
Buddha Unveiling Ceremony at Drepung Monastery during Shoton Festival

Contemporary festivals in Tibet 

Peach Blossom Festival in Nyingchi (one of the seven prefecture-level cities in Tibet): With the very different climate and landscape from the rest of Tibet, Nyingchi is endowed with large forest coverage and teeming with amazing flora. The most famous natural attraction in Nyingchi is the numerous wild peach blossoms. Every March, these hidden beauties wake the valley up with the exquisitely beautiful pink flowers. Some of them are hundreds of years old. To promote the tourism of Nyingchi, the Peach Blossom Festival has been an annually held festival at the end of March in Nyingchi.

In Shannan region, alpine azalea is at the most beautiful in May and June. Festivals with the theme of azalea has now become an annual event in several regions in Shannan. The Azalea Festival is often held at the end of May, with the exact date announced in March.

You may be interested in the tour below:
Saga Dawa Festival Mount Kailash Kora in 15 Days

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