As the 15th day of the 10th lunar month begins, the women of Tibet prepare for the coming Fairy Festival. Dressed and layered in colorful garbs, they set to the busiest streets of Tibet to burn branches and leaves. The celebration begins.

Why celebrate this holiday?

The Tibetan Fairy Festival celebrates the Tibetan Buddhist deity Palden Lhamo. Hence the alternative name of this festival is the Palden Lhamo Festival. 

Palden Lhamo is a wrathful and compassionate goddess. She is also a protector of the Dalai Lama and Tibet.

A painting of Palden Lhamo

The Fairy Festival also memorializes the tragic love story between Sontzen Gampo and Bailamu

Sontzen Gampo and Bailamu planned to get married but their parents disapproved. Sontzen Gampo was then exiled to the south side of Lhasa River. The lovers could only see each other across the river once a year on this day. 

Since then, the Fairy Festival has become a day to celebrate and treat the women of Tibet. 

People celebrate in several different ways. In cities such as Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, business women will ask their male colleagues to throw huge banquets for them. Diversely, women in more pastoral areas will dress up and go to temples to celebrate Palden Lhamo.

During the festival, women are allowed to ask for presents and red envelopes from men and even strangers. Men are expected to give these gifts as one of the traditions of the festival.

In the Temple

Tibetan women in traditional clothing for the Fairy Festival

In Lhasa, the Jokhang Monastery serves as the center for worship on this day. The deity statues are moved outside and are worshipped from sun up to sun down.

Tibetan women presenting the hada

Women will typically hold their hada in their hands to greet the deities. Hada are white ceremonial scarfs used only in Tibet and Mongolia.

Dancing and singing soon follows within the temples and outside in the streets. Women will wear their finest jewelry and clothes on this day while in the presence of Palden Lhamo.

To close the ceremony of worship, hada is once again presented to the deities and the festival concludes. 

Traditional Cuisine

Highland Barley Wine and Qinghao Biejia Tang (青蒿鳖甲汤)During the festivities, the women will drink highland barley wine and eat Qinghao Biejia Tang (青蒿鳖甲汤, turtle and artemisia soup). The soup is believed to have medicinal benefits to those who drink it.

When can you celebrate?

The Fairy Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 10th month of the lunar year. For those who do not follow the lunar calendar, this year it is on November 30. 

This day also symbolizes the Tibetan Plateau welcoming its chilly weather.

If you ever happen to be in Tibet during this time of year, be sure to celebrate this mystical holiday!


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Collin Absher

Collin Absher is a Chinese Studies major at the College of William and Mary. Collin hopes to spread his love of Chinese Literature and poetry in fun ways!
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