Arts, Culture & Media

Tibetans in the US still see the New Year as a time to celebrate, despite the conditions back home

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Courtesy of Simply Tibetan

A traditional Tibetan khabsey, or cookie, called sangha bahaley, is one of the many treats Tibetans eat on Lunar New Year, or Losar.

Around this time of year, phones of Tibetans around the world are ringing off the hook.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, Sunday is Losar, or New Year's, which means, like withany good holiday, there's a lot of feasting.

"You know, you [Americans] have Thanksgiving where families get together? For us, it's Losar. It's a time when you'll hear from relatives who are in Europe, India, and even Tibet. We usually have a ritual to clean out all the bad spirits and bad influences in your life and on Losar you get to start fresh. So you look to the New Year with fresh eyes — as well as eating and drinking," says Tencho Gyatso, a Tibetan American immigrant and author of Simply Tibetan, Simply Delicious, a popular food blog (its Facebook page has more than 1,200 followers).

Gyatso, who blogs out of the Washington, DC, area, is trying to popularize Tibetan cuisine, especially among younger Tibetans, to keep the culture alive in the US.

"Unfortunately, like everything else, I think our cuisine too, has suffered in exile and many have never had the chance to taste much more than the basic thukpa, momo and shamdey," she writes on her blog. "But we have much more than that, and there are fewer and fewer who know how to make them well."

In the last few years, Gyatso says Losar has a different feel to it:

"The situation inside Tibet is getting very, very difficult. All of us, we have family, we have relatives. And our hearts are always there, in some sense. Of course we want to keep our culture going for our children and future generation and give them something Tibetan. But at the same time, we haven't been able to have the gaiety and joy of singing and dancing that usually goes on for New Year. We haven't had that in a few years," she explains.

Still, Gyatso celebrates Losar by making traditional Tibetan foods. One of her recent recipes, a special treat for Losar, is khabsey, a fried, flaky cookie. Gyatso says the idea of a fried cookie may be a little bit odd, but she promises it's very light.

"When you bite into it, it just breaks in your mouth. Khabsey are very, very popular with our kids for Losar. They all love it," she says.

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