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Nyilo: Winter Solstice in Bhutan

What is Nyilo?

The shortest day of the year, Nyilo, according to the Bhutanese calendar based on Buddhist astrology, marks the beginning of winter and the beginning of the lengthening of the days until the summer solstice. The Winter Solstice naturally occurs on December 21 or 22, based on astronomy rather than astrology, and is observed on Donghzi in adjacent to China on the astronomical dates.

Nyilo is an abbreviation for "the return of the sun." Like other new year's days celebrated around the world, Nyilo is a lucky day when faults and mistakes made in the past can be forgiven and the rewards of good deeds are increased. Everyone is advised against engaging in destructive behavior on this day since it is regarded as sacred.

Youths celebrating Nyilo with the 5th Druk Gyelpo. Courtesy: Bhutan Endless Journey.

The people of the western Bhutanese regions of Shar and Wang celebrate it as their traditional tradition's equivalent of the new year. There are claims that it existed before Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who established Bhutan in the early 17th century.

How is Nyilo celebrated?

On the eve of Nyilo, it is customary for youngsters to visit every household in their community while singing "Lolay"—ancient rhymes that essentially wish the person they are visiting a prosperous or happy new year. Lolay is a celebration that aims to prevent certain supernatural calamities from happening in the area, hence fostering peace and prosperity there for the upcoming year. Lolay arrives one day before Lomba in Paro and Haa, and one day before Nyilo in Wang and Shar.

The word "Lolay" literally translates to "prosperous year," but it is also used to describe a particular performance put on by a group of kids and young men the night before the Nyilo and Lomba festivals. The village kids form smaller groups and visit each home while humming Lolay incantations. The youngsters who participate in Lolay Jangni are referred to as Lolay Jangme. Tendrel gi tsul, or sign of auspiciousness, is the name of the gifts that farmers give to children.

In exchange, the family's leader gives the performers gifts of rice, meat, and other food items that they can use to make a lavish lunch or go on a picnic the next day. Children are supposed to visit homes in odd numbers since it is believed that even numbers are unluckyVillagers take a break from their busy farming schedules at Nyilo, where the men compete in archery, degor, and khuru games.


More about Lolay


Compared to adults, kids play a bigger part in Lolay. Children are frequently thought of as a conduit for good fortune to reach families. When a child is born, she or he not only brings joy to the family but also merit, or sonam. According to a popular belief, even a tiny act of kindness performed on this day will have a greater impact than a large amount of merit acquired at other times. According to a lot of people, Lolay was present in Bhutan long before Zhabdrung was. Based on the fact that a line in the Lolay incantation gives a detailed description of a model Bhutanese farmhouse made of rammed mud that existed in Bhutan before Zhabdrung's arrival in 1616, this was the case.

Students singing lolay with the Prime Minister.

Courtesy: Bhutan Prime Minister Facebook.

Although the tradition of Nyilo was suited for rural areas and farmers, the fading number of people performing Lolay serves as a reminder of a custom that is in danger, especially in urban areas like Thimphu where young people knocking on doors are viewed as a nuisance. Hence, Nyilos are barely celebrated in urban households. Nevertheless, every year, young people pay a visit to the King and Queen of Bhutan and perform the Lolay verses for them. The entire nation's government offices and institutions also close in observance of Nyilo so that people can remember what was once a well-celebrated occasion.


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