Losar belongs to Tibet. Losar belongs to the Tibetan people. No one can steal it from us.
I live in a foreign land where Tibetan festivals hold no immediate meaning. Struggling onto crowded subways each morning and each night, avoiding the empty gaze of strangers, the ground I walk upon is many seas and skies away from my mountainous home. So why should I celebrate Losar? The real New Year is already past, any way. Well, the answer is simple: No matter where I live, I am Tibetan, and if I don't celebrate my own tradition, who will?
It has become clear that Chinese authorities have been encouraging Tibetans in certain parts of Tibet to celebrate Losar, even handing out cash for fireworks in some cases. Understandably, this pathetic attempt by China to hijack Losar has angered Tibetans, some of whom may have decided to skip Losar in a knee-jerk reaction.
To celebrate Losar just because China tells us to do so - that's a mistake. Likewise, to skip Losar just because China tells us to celebrate it - that's also a mistake. Our tradition should not be relegated to a mere reaction - equal or opposite - to China's demands. China should have no say in how we practice our tradition. We Tibetans must proactively decide whether, when, where and how to observe Losar.
Chinese authorities will tell us to celebrate Losar next year too, and the year after that. Are we going to skip every Losar just to make a point? If we really want to hit the Chinese government where it hurts most, we should observe Losar in all the ways that distinguish us from them. We should use the occasion to assert our identity - eat Tibetan food, wear Tibetan dress, speak in Tibetan, write Losar cards and door signs in Tibetan, light butter lamps and perform kora. Let khatas hang on the door and prayer flags fly in the wind, let the smell of tsampa and incense fill the air.
Messages from Tibet, via articles and poems, have called on Tibetans to celebrate Losar as an occasion to assert our identity, empower our spirit, and to distinguish ourselves from the Chinese. Many are using the power of visuals, creating heart-shaped images with the word "Tibet" inscribed on them, to play on the fact that Losar falls on Valentine's Day. I heard that in Lhasa, for example, people have done most of the shopping and are planning to observe Losar at home. After living under virtual martial law for nearly two years, sharing a hot bowl of guthuk and a sweet dish of dresil with friends and family will nourish the soul.
Though mourning is important as a symbolic gesture, it is politically useless beyond a certain point. Excessive mourning, instead of bringing the dead back to life, pulls the living closer to death. In fact, the best way to honor the our martyrs is to advance the Tibetan struggle for freedom - which is what they died for - and the best way to advance the struggle is to engage the grassroots through activism. People will participate in a movement that is vibrant, inclusive, engaging and dynamic. No one is drawn to a movement that is drowning in a pool of tears and self-pity and endless mourning.
Let's distinguish ourselves from our oppressors, not by our sorrow but by our spirit, not by our mourning but by our activism. If we want to advance our movement, and if we truly want to pay tribute to our martyrs, we must observe Losar by being Tibetan, by taking action, by taking a pledge.
This Losar, take a pledge to do something every week - if possible, every day - that will strengthen Tibetan people and weaken the Chinese empire.