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Courtney Traub

French Tibetans Begin Own New Year Celebrations

By February 16, 2010

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By About.com Paris Travel Contributor Colette Davidson

Paris City Hall was the starting point last weekend for kickoff celebrations of Chinese New Year-- but parallel to these festivities, the French Tibetan community was celebrating their own New Year in a Paris suburb. Hundreds packed the cultural center of Saint Gratien on the outskirts of the city on Sunday to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Organized by the Tibetan Community of France, the festivities included an elaborate buffet, traditional singing and dancing and, as per tradition, an abundance of butter tea-- made from tea leaves, yak butter, and salt. Losar, which is the most important holiday in Tibet, is celebrated for 15 days in February, according to the lunar calendar. This year, the main celebrations fell on the same day as the beginning of Chinese New Year-- not without irony, given the tense relationship between the Chinese government and Tibetan leaders in exile.

Saint Gratien's Mayor Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio agreed to hold the celebration in the quaint suburb for the second year in a row. Eustache-Brinio has had an interest in Tibetan culture since she visited Tibet and India, and met Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in France, a few years ago. In April 2008, Saint Gratien hung a Tibetan flag up in the town hall and it has hung there ever since. Later that year, Eustache-Brinio organized a three-week event devoted to Tibetan culture, which included artistic performances, exhibitions, and presentations for schoolchildren.

France is home to a large Tibetan community, and counts over 100 Tibetan Buddhist temples and meditation centers, with many of the most important of these in the South of France. The most prominent Tibetan temple in the Paris area, Kagyu-Dzong, is located in the Bois de Vincennes park on Paris' eastern edge and is housed on the same premises as the International Buddhist Center, which itself features a stunning Pagoda (pictured). The original building was designed for the Colonial Exposition of 1931. Open to the public and hosting various festivities throughout the year, the Pagode de Vincennes features Europe's largest Buddha figure, measuring around 30 ft and decorated with gold leaf.

Pagode de Vincennes and Kagyu-Dzong Temple Location: Bois de Vincennes, Lac Daumesnil, Metro Porte Dorée (Line 12)

Image: The Vincennes Pagoda. Public domain.

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