Tibetan New Year is the most important festival in Tibet. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and hope for a better coming days ahead. Known as Losar, the festival starts from 1st to 3rd of the first Tibetan month. Specially made offerings are offered to family shrine deities, doors are painted with religious symbols and aslo other painstaking tasks are done to prepare for the event. On the New Year's Eve, Tibetans eat barley crumb food (Guthuk in Tibetan) with their families and have fun since the barley crumbs are stuffed with different stuffing to fool someone in the family. After the dinner, it is the Festival of Banishing Evil Sprits! Torches are lit and people are running and yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. The New Year is coming! Before the dawn on the New Year's Day, housewives fetch their first buckets of water in the New Year home and prepare breakfast. After dressing up, people open their doors upon prayers and go to monasteries. People visit their neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek greetings in the first two days. Feast is the theme during the session. On the third day, old prayer flags will be replaced with new ones. Other folk activities may be held in some areas to celebrate the events.
Monlam, the Great Prayer Festival falls on 4th-11th day of the first Tibetan month. The event was established in 1049 by Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama's order. As the grandest religious festival in Tibet, religious dances are performed and thousands of monks gather for chanting before Jokhang Temple. Examination for Geshe degree (the highest degree in Buddhist theology), taking form of sutra debates, are held. Pilgrims crowd to listen to sermons and to make religious donations.
The Butter Lamp Festival, Chunga Choepa in Tibetan falls on the 15th day of the first Tibetan month. The event was also established by Tsong Khapa to celebrate the victory of Sakyamuni against heretics in a religious debate. Various giant butter and Tsampa sculptures in forms of auspicious symbols and figures are displayed on Barkhor. People continue to sing and dance throughout the festive night.
On the 15th day of the fourth Tibetan month falls the festival called Saka Dawa Festival. The day is believed to be the day when Sakyamuni was born, step into Buddhahood and attained Nirvana. Tibetans believe that one merit equals myriads of merits accumulated the other days. People keep from killing animals, refrain from eating meats and liberate animals. Sutra chanting, prayer turning, Cham dancing and other religious activities dominate the session. Offering sacrifices to the female deity enshrined in the temple on the islet of the Dragon King Pond, boating in the pond and picnicking add more of the festive moods.
Shoton Festival (known also as Yoghurt Festival) begins on the 30th of the sixth Tibetan month. The origin of the festival started in the 17th century. When monks stopped their summer retreat which was intended not to kill newly hatched insects, pilgrims came to serve them with yogurt. Later Tibetan opera performances were added to the event to amuse monks in monasteries. During the festival, giant Thangkas of the Buddha is unveiled in Drepung Monastery and Tibetan opera troupes perform operas at Norbulingkha.
Bathing Festival starts on 27th of the 7th lunar month and lasts for a week when Venus appears in the sky. Tibetans brings food and set up tents along rivers and bathe themselves in star light. The holy bath is considered to be able to heal all ailments and get rid of misfortune.
Nakchu Horse Racing Festival is a most important folk festival celebrated in Tibet. People gather in Nakchu town and construct a tent city. Dressing themselves and their finest horse, thousands of herdsmen participate in the thrilling horse race, archery and horsemanship contest. Other folk activities and commodity fairs are also held. The event falls annually on every early august .
There are different versions of the origin of Gyangtse Horse Racing Festival which is also popular throughout Tibet. The festival usually falls in June. Horse race, archery contest and other games are performed to entertain people. Religious activities also are part of the event.
Buddha Thanka Unfolding Festival is celebrated in Tashilhunpo Monastery from 14th to 16th of the fifth Tibetan month. Unbelievable giant Thangkas of Amitayus, Sakyamuni and Maitreya will be displayed on the monastery's Thangka Wall successively. Thousands of pilgrims rush to the monastery to pay their offerings to the Buddhas and accumulate their merits. The tradition has lasted for 500 years.
Tsong Khapa Butter Lamp Festival falls on 25th day of the tenth Tibetan month. The myriads of butter lamps are lit on rooftops and prayers are chanted to memorize the passing away of Tsong Khapa who was a great religious reformer and adept in Buddhism.
Paying Homage to the Holy Mountain Festival, Choekhor Duechcen in Tibetan, falling on the 4th of the sixth Tibetan month is to commemorate Sakyamuni's first sermon. People in their best conduct during the session and go to monasteries to pay homage to the Buddha. Circumambulation around mountains is the popular practice in the festival. Picnicking, singing and dancing are also part of the activities.
Universal Prayers Festival, Zamling Chisang in Tibetan falls on 15th day of the fifth Tibetan month. The event is to commemorate Padmasambhava's subjugation of evil spirits. People go to monasteries and burn juniper branches.
Harvest Festival, Ongkor in Tibetan is celebrated when crops are ripen - usually around August. The festival is celebrated only in farming villages. People walk around field to bless for a better harvest year. Singing, dancing and horseracing are indispensable folk activities.