Monday, November 5, 2012


Public holidays in Bhutan follow the Tibetan calendar which is based on lunar months, each beginning and ending with a new moon. Every two or three years, there is the addition of a 13th month, kind of like a leap year so to speak. There are also numerous local festivals called tsuchus that occur throughout the year at various times in an many different places.

Winter Solstice. 7th day of the 11th month of Tibetan calendar. It’s usually celebrated around December 21 or 22. Treated as if it were New Year’s, this holiday celebrates the shortest day of the year and that the coming days will start to get longer. The day is often celebrated with great feasts and the national sport of archery.

Traditional Day of Offering. 1st day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar. This day usually falls in January or February. It’s a day in honor of the founder of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It’s celebrated with different sports such as archery, digor (a kind of game that is like a cross between shotput and horseshoes), and khuru (darts). Acts of charity and community projects are also popular activities to do in honor of the holiday.

Losar (Tibetan New Year). 1st day of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar. It’s usually celebrated between February and March. This is a holiday that generally lasts 15 days and can be celebrated at slightly different times across the country. Like many cultures, this is a time to do a lot of cleaning in the home, getting rid of the items that aren’t used any longer and fixing broken items. It’s also a time to celebrate with a lot of food and alcohol.

Birthday of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The holiday lasts from February 21-23. This celebrates the birthday of the current King of Bhutan. In Bhutan, the king is referred to as the Druk Gyalpo, which basically means “Dragon King.”

Shabdrung Kurchoe. 10th day of the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar. It generally falls in April or May. This is a national day of mourning for the passing of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, back in 1651.

Birthday of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.  This is celebrated on May 2. He is the 3rd King of Bhutan and was instrumental in leading the country into modernization. 

Coronation of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  Celebrated on June 2, it marks the coronation of the 4th King of Bhutan. He is also credited with many reforms, but probably most notably for allowing access to television and Internet to its citizens. This day also coordinates with Social Forestry Day, where children all over the country are encouraged to plant trees on this day. There is actually a decree in the country where 60% of the land must remain forest-covered.

Parinirvana of Buddha. Held June 15, this is a day in honor of the nirvana of Gautama Buddha. Nirvana is the highest form of peace you can attain in Buddhism. It is also a concept – in slight variations – found in Hinduism and in Jainism.

Birthday of Guru Rinpoche. July 10. Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, is often attributed the honor of bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet from India. He’s also called the Second Buddha or an emanation of Buddha Amitabha.

First sermon of Buddha: August 3. This is s holiday that celebrates the first dharma lesson that Gautama Buddha taught in the city of Sarnath, India.

Blessed Rainy Day. In September. At first thought, it seems an odd thing to celebrate, but anyone's who's been through a drought knows the importance of rain. The holiday is held during the monsoon season, and can be celebrated with as much rigor as New Year's with food, drink, sports, music, and a ritual purification through washing.

Dashain. October 6. This is one of the key holidays celebrated by the Nepalese people (as well as a Hindu holiday). During this time many people clean their homes and do any kind of home repairs with the anticipation of friends and family gathering for food and drinks and the exchanging of gifts.

Coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. November 1. I saw last week that many of the tourism sites online had special promotional events for this occasion. This holiday marks the coronation of the current King of Bhutan.

Birthday of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. November 11. Initially marking the birthday of the 4th King of Bhutan, it also doubles as Constitution Day. The country’s first constitution was enacted under his reign.

Lhabab Duchen. 22nd day of the 9th month of the Tibetan calendar. Generally in November. This holiday celebrates Gautama Buddha's return to earth after his ascension to attain nirvana. On this day, some people will give special blessings to Buddha in various forms in different areas of Bhutan.

National Day. December 17. This marks the day of the coronation of the first King of Bhutan, King Ugyen Wangchuck. Many buildings and homes are decorated in flags, dragons, and the national colors or red and gold. There is a procession through the streets with a statue of King Ugyar Wangchuck, there is a large public speech by the current king at the local stadium.

Up next: Art and Literature

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