Tibet is a country located northeast of the Himalayan Mountains. Majority of the population are Buddhists, thus their culture, government, and lifestyle are associated with Tibetan Buddhism. They live in a remote part of the world and for this reason, Tibetans are very traditional. Despite their simple way of living, what they give to the world that is far more valuable than material things. They send out prayers and chants filled with wishes of love, peace, and compassion for the world every day. Tibetans also believes in generosity so sharing is widely practiced among friends, relatives, and even foreigners visiting their land. If you are planning to visit Tibet, here are some tips on the people’s gift giving practices.
Tibetan Gift Giving Etiquette
- Gifts are often presented to the recipients unwrapped.
- Gifts are given and accepted with both hands.
- Refusing a gift is a rude act among Tibetans.
- Cash gifts are acceptable but make sure that you give money in odd amounts.
- Thank you gifts or cards are not part of the Tibetan culture. They just express their gratitude right away.
Presenting a Khata or Hada
A khata or hada is a long piece of silk commonly used as a greeting gift in Tibet. The khata is given in almost all occasions in the country and to show purity, loyalty, and respect to the receivers. But these silk scarves have meanings depending on their design and the way it is given.
- White khata symbolizes purity and luck.
- A khata with five colors – blue, white, yellow, green, and red – is a very valued gift and is only given to the Buddha statues or intimate relatives on special occasions.
- On presenting a khata, one must take it with both hands, lift it up to shoulder level, reach out hands, bend over, making sure that the head is the same level as the khata, and pass it to the receiver.
- If the recipient is a senior or elder, the khata will be placed in front of their seats or feet.
- If the recipient is a counterpart or a subordinate, you can hang the khata around their necks.
Tibetan Gift Giving Occasions
- Hostess Gift – Tibetans always bring a hostess gift whenever they visit someone’s house. For someone they haven’t seen for a while, they will bring a basket full of gifts. Butter tea (brewed tea with salted butter) is a favorite gift and is shared immediately between hostess and guest. The hostess will accept some of the gifts from the basket, but not all of them for that will be rude. The hostess will then fill the visitor’s basket with food items for him to take home.
- Birthday – birthdays are seldom celebrated in Tibet because some families don’t know their birthdays. Tibetans automatically turn one year old from birth so they are a year older than their actual age. Although Tibetans don’t celebrate their own birthdays, they do offer prayers and gifts for the Dalai Lama for his birthday which falls on the 6th of July. Tibetans in exile can celebrate this day openly while those who live in Tibet have to honor their leader’s birthday in secret because China forbids this.
- Losar – this is the Tibetan New Year and the most celebrated holiday in the Tibetan calendar. This occasion falls between January to March and Tibetans offer gifts of tea, desserts, and flowers on an altar. These gifts symbolize their wish that all beings will live without hunger. They give gifts to promote generosity and discourage selfishness. These offerings stay on the altar for 15 days and are then thrown away.
- Weddings – wedding gifts are almost always money and khatas. The newlyweds receive hundreds of khatas that their family members have to help take some off during the ceremony.
- Saka Dawa – this occasion celebrates the day Buddha Shakyamuni received enlightenment, death, and entry into Nirvana. This event occurs on the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar and lasts for a month. During this occasion, Tibetans give gifts to beggars, abstain from meat, and offer more prayers to the world. They believe that every good deed is multiplied during this time.
- Shoton Festival – this also called Yogurt Festival. Tibetans exchange gifts of yogurt (made from yak milk) and stay indoors for a period of time. They believe that this season is an active time for animals and they don’t want to harm them by trampling on them. While indoors, families celebrate with lots of dancing, singing and yogurt eating.
- Gifts to Charity – Tibetans always give cash donations to monasteries and nunneries. Sometimes, donations of food are also offered and welcomed by these religious institutions.
- Souvenirs – when someone went off to visit a place, it is customary that he brings back gifts, and other small items from that place.