Sonam Lhochhar

It is observed for a full 15 days, though only the first three days receive excessive attention. Sonam Lhochhar occurs around the same time of year as does Chinese and Mongolian New Year, and it uses the Chinese Calendar as well.

In reality, the central area where Sonam Lhochhar is celebrated is Tibet, but certain ethnic groups in Nepal, particularly the Tamang, also keep it. The Tamang constitute eight percent of Nepal’s population, is 90 percent Buddhist, and have a distinct language and culture. They traditionally live in the central highlands of Nepal, including in the capital city of Kathmandu. However, Tamang has now relocated to all regions of Nepal, to neighboring areas of northern India, to Bhutan, and to Burma.

In Nepal, Sonam Lhochhar falls on the first new moon of the month called “Magh,” which lands it anywhere from early January to mid-February. Note that those who celebrate Sonam Lhochhar in Nepal also observe the 12 animal symbols associated with particular years, as do the Chinese. They will often attach significance to whether it is the year of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, or boar.

The Tamang begin to prepare for Sonam Lhochhar on the final day of the 12th month. They clean their houses and try to get in the mindset of “welcoming the new year.” Buddhist monasteries will perform rituals that include masked dances, which are supposed to drive away “forces of negativity.” Many people go to monasteries, temples, and shrines to take part in various ceremonies on "Sonam Lhochhar Eve".

The celebrants will also buy new clothes and wear them on New Year’s Day. They will decorate their homes as well as if donning them in new apparel. When they sweep out their houses, they say it serves to “sweep away an ill fortune.” When they adorn their doors and windows with colored paper and cloth, they print on the themes of “good luck,” “long life,” and “happiness.” Finally, families gather together to enjoy a festive dinner, where pork, duck, chicken, and various sweet desserts are served.

Three activities for tourists to take part in if in Nepal during Sonam Lhochhar are as follows:

  • Attend Nepalese musical performances. The Tamang are very famous for their music, and you can find both official concerts and street performances. Look for their famous traditional drum, called the “Damfu.” It is small, round, and covered with goat’s skin on one side. You will notice 32 small bamboo sticks are used in its construction. Also listen for Tamang songs, known as “Tamang Selo.” These songs are famous for being witty and humorous but also for expressing the “deep philosophical meaning of life.” They have become popular with all Nepalese, not only with the Tamang.
  • Attend the major Soman Lhochhar celebration in Tudikhel, a public grounds in Kathmandu where many Tamang gather annually. There are many events, including contests of skill, dramas, and feasts. You will see the Tamang in their traditional garb, jewelry, and hats.
  • Tour the National Museum of Nepal, located in Kathmandu. It is the largest museum in the country and recounts the history, art, and cultures of Nepal through numerous exhibits. There are artifacts related to wars once fought in Nepal, to local plants and animals, and to the cultures of Nepal’s diverse peoples. Look for displays related to the Tamang, but you will see the whole swath of Nepalese culture.

Anyone visiting Nepal around the time of Sonam Lhochhar will find many events celebrating this holiday to attend. In particular, it will be a good time to learn of the Tamang people, for whom Sonam Lhochhar is of major importance. While in the country, however, one can also learn of the culture and history of Nepal in general.

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