Losar, the Himalayan New Year, was celebrated at the Rubin Museum of Art on Sunday, February 16, with lots of excited kids and their families. The holiday, which takes place on different dates in different Buddhist countries (Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pakistan), goes on for fifteen days although most of the celebration is on the first three.
This year’s zodiac animal is technically the rat but the Rubin morphed it into the mouse, probably a little friendlier for kids. The element associated with the year is metal, “element” being a concept that seemed challenging to most of the little ones.
I volunteered for the day and was assigned to the Metal Mouse area where kids got tinfoil, wire and help when needed to make their own mice. Here is my mouse, hardly a thing of beauty but mine own. Some of the mice made by both kids and volunteers were fabulous.
The kids were adorable but not so all the parents—I witnessed helicopter parenting up close as some moms and dads insisted on doing the whole project themselves to “get it right.” (To be fair, others dropped their progeny off –these kids did just fine.)
The day included singing, dancing, other art projects including a butter sculpture demo and making something similar, mouse mask-making and a scavenger hunt. On a break I visited the top floor to see the current exhibit, Measure Your Existence, that includes an area where you are invited to take paper and pencil and write to someone in your past expressing gratitude, regret or what you will and leaving the letter unsigned to be read by other visitors. (Or sign it and the Rubin will mail it.)
Another exhibit is what at first looked like an ostrich egg but turned out to be a sort of egg-shaped form of wound string the exact length of the Indian-Pakistan border. Still another work incorporated a video of an artist who punched a time clock once every hour 24/7 for 365 days. The description explains that he “had to rearrange his life around this one gesture.” No kidding. (Existence runs through August 10 so, if you want to see it you have ample time.)
The Rubin is an elegant, usually quiet space occupying the building where Barney’s was originally (7th Avenue and 17th Street.) On Sunday it was far from quiet but everyone appeared to be having a great time. At lunch time volunteers were served that Himalayan fave, pizza, dashing from the main museum to the education center down the block minus coats.
For a more Losar-like eating experience, make Tibetan Sweet Rice or Dresil’, a dish that’s popular in many Buddhist countries on special occasions.
Tibetan Sweet Rice
2 cups basmati rice, uncooked
Water (for cooking rice)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup unsalted cashew nuts, whole or halves
1 cup raisins 1/4 cup dried apricots (or other dried fruit)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Cook the rice as specified and with recommended amount of water as directed on package.
When rice is done and still hot, stir in the butter, cashews, raisins, apricots (and any other dried fruit being used), and sugar. Traditionally, Dresil is served with a bit of dri (a Tibetan sweet, creamy butter from female yaks). As there probably isn’t a yak in your area, let alone a female, just switch this up for regular sweet butter
From what I’ve read some eat this as a kind of rice pudding dessert. Others serve it as a side dish with spicy chicken wings or another spicy dish. Tibetans drink a special kind of beer at the start of Losar. You could do the same with the beer of your choice, water or whatever you feel contributes to a festive New Year’s celebration. May you have a splendid Year of the Rat.