Dates and numbers are a wonderfully fluid thing in Tibet. For the record, I don't know my actual date of birth. In fact, I'm not even sure of the year of my birth. I do know that I was born in the year of the sheep, and this makes me either 27, 51 or 39. I'll leave that one with you.
But even if we can narrow down my birth year, there will still be a discrepancy between how old I am perceived to be in Tibet vs how old that makes me here in the west. If I am 39 in western years then I would be considered to be 41 in Tibet, where people also count the nine months a child spends in its mothers womb, and then another year on top of this every New Year's Day.
So I turned 41 last week. Or did I? Tibetan New Year isn't officially upon us until February 16th this year, but my family generally celebrate this most important of festivals at a time of their own convenience. Our animals need access to fresh food after a long winter at home, so we usually mark the new year early, while everyone is still around to enjoy the party.
None of this means that dates per se are not important in Tibet, but there is a fluidity to them that is unseen in the western Gregorian system. The Tibetan calendar is lunisolar, which means that it is on based on the cycles of both the sun and the moon. The year is made up of twelve lunar months, but a thirteenth month is added every two or three years to keep the calendar in synch with the seasons.
Added to this, astrologers routinely leave out days, dates, or even months that are considered unlucky. No wonder the people take things into their own hands when it comes to celebrating events even as big as the New Year.
Over the last few days, family and friends in Tibet have sent through scores of videos and photos taken during the New Year in my home village. The video at the top of this post gives the best idea of how the days and nights are spent. Below are a couple of shots showing what happens further up on the hills. Generally speaking lots of dancing, singing, and music, and of course food and drink.
This week, at our Pop-Up at Silvie Bakery Cafe, we are gifting you Tibetan khabsey, the traditional sweet snack prepared in every Tibetan household over the New Year period. Help yourself from bowls in the front room while you wait for your takeaway, or grab a couple on your way out if you are eating in. Happy New Year!
Taste Tibet @ Silvie - Where/When?
Thursdays 6.30pm-9.30pm, Silvie Bakery Cafe, 281 Iffley Road, Oxford OX4 4AQ
Also: Gloucester Green Market
Wednesdays, 9am-4pm, Gloucester Green, Oxford OX1 2BU