Last week I took my very last three days ‘Casual Leave’ for the year (Wow! It was worth saving out of ten!). After two solid years I had gone to my village (Shershong) in Gelephu to perform one-day Lochhoe. Lochhoe is an annual festival conducted mostly by the western region in the country and is an integral part of our folklore. It is with the belief that the end of the year is the right time to start afresh with renewed hope for a prosperous new year in terms of health, wealth, crop yield, success, etc. It is the time to pay our reverence to God for his benevolence, everlasting care and divine company for the year that just passed by. It is also the only occasion wherein all family members, relatives, friends and neighbours gather together and rejoice unconditionally.
The day is preceded by morning Thub (porridge) which is my favorite part of the course meal for the day. We would set everything ready from the previous night only. People who practice this ritual in some part of the country have started to abstain from non-vegetarian food for this particular day which is a noble initiative taken by them. We are hoping that the rest of the cohort members will follow the suit as well in near future. The host would invite all the fellow villagers within and make them eat everything, literally a ceremonial meal! From morning Thup & breakfast to afternoon refreshment & Soew (lunch) to evening Shamdrey (fried rice) & tea to Tsho (dinner) with of course Beer & Ara (this thing they call it distilled water). Surprising my Aunt this time added a variety of wine like Santa Barbara, Wedding bells, Zinzy, Figueira in the shopping list (she said that her guest friends now preferred these brands of wine over beer).
As the ritual comes to an end, the family members are asked to come inside the altar room where the Lama and other monks are reciting various mantras. This time, my mother, my niece and I went inside and sat listening to them praying for my family. As they continued praying, we were asked to keep a bowl each in front of the altar. We then threw the rice grains in the air, few grains happened to get inside the bowl filled with ara. They say that, more the number of grains inside the bowl, more happiness will be in stored for you for the New Year. As these are honest revelation, you can’t help but accept them. I’m happy that my bowl contained lots of rice grains than I expected. Moment of Bliss! It is one of those glorious experience that you get it once every year, people having faith in those citations of religious mantras, offerings to God, your fellow villagers and the God himself.
Now wandering away from it, as I headed off to sleep I spent some time to think about how beautiful the world must have looked in the west with lights all around as they celebrated the biggest holiday - Christmas (though people have started to celebrate this part of the world too. If I may, I would like to call it the influx of western cultures. Bhutanese today celebrate almost every international occasion for whatever reasons). “Christmas is just weird. What other time of the year do you sit in front of a dead tree in your house and eat candy out of your socks?” Wait, that wasn’t me at all. I just quoted from the Funny-One-Liners which I happened to come across on twitter.
The whole picture of Christmas dominated around a jolly red-white-suited and white-bearded Santa Claus flying on his red-nosed reindeer, slithering down the chimneys (every December) with a huge bag filled with attractively wrapped Christmas presents when I was young and innocent. Even Santa Claus had the right thought of visiting people once a year like our annual Lochhoe which brings together the whole family and the community. God knows who introduced this ‘ho-ho-ho-jolly-man’ version of God to me then. It always kept me wondering how he could make our wish come true. How on world did he handle the never ending wishes of ours? I was told that he would grant wishes if only you have been a good person throughout the year. Well now there is something to contemplate, is it bad for us to believe in it with an unbridled faith, if this turns us to a better being? If it scares us of indulging ourselves in wrong deeds? If it motivates us to do good work? I hope Santa was good to you. I hope Santa brought you everything that you ever wanted, that you so well deserve. Anyone get anything good? Well your answer explains if you have been naughty or nice throughout the year. So you better behave well next year on if your wish depends on Santa.
This has been a season for family and friends to come together and be jolly. Lochhoe in a way lets us return back to the society where we truly belong and rejoice in what we have been practicing for yonks. Christmas has been the time to give not only gifts but joy and happiness wholeheartedly. There is this beauty of Christmas in making us still hope for our wishes to come true this year, if not next year and in the coming years. It is the best part of the year with such festive spirit in the air and the whole family and community coming together beautifully to celebrate the occasions. While everyone is busy making plans to welcome the new year, I’m heading to enjoy the last day of the season of giving, thanking God for the love, laughter, happiness and my holiday here. Indeed a lot of reasons to be happy. So continue extending happiness and keep smiling. Until next year!
PS. Happy Lochhoe to those observing the ceremony in coming days! And Merry Christmas again to those celebrating! Have a fun and safe holiday!
Jingle all the way!! The Santa me (it was shot in 2008)