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Tsagaan sar festival

Tsagaan Sar Festival/Mongolian Lunar New Year

The harsh climate of Mongolia in winter often discourages travelers, who fear to face cold as low as -30°C. However, the period of Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian New Year, is particularly conducive to a trip to Mongolia, for the rich traditions that accompany this very important family celebration.

The White Moon holiday is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice.  After Naadam, Tsagaan Sar is the second-most important Mongolian holiday. Around the New Year people greet each other by saying “Amar baina uu?, a very formal greeting which one says to one’s elders. Mongolians also visit family, relatives and friends on this day to greet and exchange gifts.

A typical Mongolian family will meet at home of the eldest male in the family. When greeting their elders during the White Moon festival, Mongolians grasp them by their elbows to show respect for them. The eldest male receives greetings from each member of the family except for his wife. During the greeting ceremony, family members hold long pieces of blue-colored cloth called Khadag.  After greeting, the family eats buuz and drinks airag (fermented mare’s milk) and exchanges gifts.

The day before Tsagaan Sar is called “Bituun”. On this day, families gather together–immediate family usually, in contrast to the large feast gatherings of White Moon day–and see out the old year. Traditionally, Mongolians settle all issues and repay all debts from the old year by this day. Mongols eat their fill at the Bituun meal, as tradition says that if you are hungry after Bituun you will be hungry for the whole coming year.

Traditional food for the festival includes a steamed side of sheep and minced beef or minced lamb steamed inside the pastry, a dish known as buuz. Tsagaan Sar is a lavish feast, requiring preparation days in advance, as the women make large quantities of buuz and freeze them to save for the holiday.

Symbolism of Tsagaan Sar

Tsagaan Sar is what might be called the Mongolian New Year. It is set according to the lunar calendar, in connection with the Tibetan Losar, usually in January or February. Tsagaan Sar means “White Month”, which begins with the new moon rise. The night before the day of Tsagaan Sar is called Bituun, the Mongolian name of the new moon (the lunar phase corresponding to when the moon is black). You can see the symbolism of rebirth, “rebirth” of the new moon evoking the birth of the New Year.

Tsagaan Sar traditions and rituals

Many traditions are associated with this symbolism and aim to start the New Year auspiciously, the way we started the year is deemed to influence the course of it. Thus, all Mongolians spend the evening of Bituun with their family, eat as much as possible to ensure that the coming year is “rich”. For the same reason, everybody dresses in new and the finest possible clothes.

Tsagaan Sar Festival

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