Lo means ‘year’ and sar means ‘new’. Losar is the New Year as celebrated by Buddhist communities in the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau. In the Nepal Himalayas, Tamang, Sherpa, Yolmo, Gurung, Bhotiya, Loba, Dolpopa, Mugumpa and many other groups celebrate Losar.
Nepal has three Losars, namely, Tolo (Tamu) Losar, Sonam Losar, and Gyalpo Losar, which are held a month apart from each other. Tolo Losar, celebrated by the Tamu (Gurung) community is celebrated at the end of December. While Sonam Losar the New Year of the Tamangs falls on Feb, and Gyalpo Losar, New Year of the Sherpas, Bhutiyas, and Yolmos falls on March.
Tolo Losar is celebrated in mid-winter, taking the winter solstice as the starting point of a new year. Sonam Losar falls between Tolo and Gyalpo Losars and was created to suit the needs of highland farmers for whom the mid-winter Tolo Losar is too cold for celebration and the late season Gyalpo Losar conflicts with their farming work. Gyalpo Losar means ‘King’s Losar’ and this celebration is said to have originated with the military victory of a Mongol conqueror. Therefore, Gyalpo Losar is observed mainly by people who identify with ruling elites, tyranny and autarchy.
A day before Losar, homes and communities are cleaned and made spick and span, so as to create a suitable environment to welcome in the New Year. Houses are gaily decorated, with colorful papers and cloth imprinted with quotes depicting happiness, good fortune, wealth, longevity, and so on, hung over doors and windows. Feasts are a given, with families and relatives getting together to partake of lavish meals, in which pigs, chicken, ducks, sweet delicacies, etc. are the order of the day. Similarly, music too is an integral part of Losar.
The monasteries are, of course, a focal point, since Losar is a celebration of people of the Buddhist faith. Some monasteries organize special dances by masked-dancers to get rid of negative forces. In Kathmandu, Losar celebrations are held publicly in Tundikhel, and it is more of a cultural fest, with men and women in their colorful traditional dresses (the women adorned with ethnic jewelry), food stalls serving ethnic cuisine, and plenty of song and dance performances.