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Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year)

New Year's Eve in Mongolia

While we in the UK observe New Year’s Eve on 31st December with little more ceremony than a prossecco-fuelled rendition of Auld Lang Syne at midnight, in our three destinations they do things quite differently. Here, in the second of three posts exploring the festivities in Mongolia, Bhutan and Burma, is how they celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Land of the Blue Skies.

In a country where the winter is long and harsh, a new year takes on extra significance, for with it comes the light and the warmth of spring… In Mongolia, Tsagaan Sar is the festival of the Lunar New Year and takes place somewhere between the end of January and the end of February. Literally translated as White Moon, it falls on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and is eagerly anticipated.

In much the same way as the Bhutanese, the Mongolians also spend time preparing their houses and their affairs for the celebrations. Everything is thoroughly cleaned, old or dirty things are swept away, both literally and metaphorically. Old quarrels are healed, debts are settled and traditional clothes donned for the three-day festival.

The feast is prepared weeks in advance with hundreds, if not thousands, of buzz or traditional dumplings made to feed the whole family who will gather in the house of the eldest living member, and the visitors that will come to pay their neighbourly respects. Also on the table will be dairy products, mutton and horsemeat, rice with curds, a ‘mountain’ of cookies stacked high and of course, airag (fermented mare’s milk).

"We welcomed our relatives, greeting them in the traditional Mongolian way using both hands. The oldest person places his or her arms out straight, with the palms turned down, on the outstretched arms of the youngest person. Each addresses the other with the traditional greeting of good wishes such as: ‘Amar sain baina uu? Sar shinedee saikhan shinelej baina uu?’ (Hello, how do you do? Are you having a nice New Year celebration?) or ‘Mend ee, ta saikhan shinelej baina uu?’ (Hello, are you enjoying yourself at this New Year’s celebration?), while gently touching cheeks."

(Uuganaa Ramsay, A Traditional Tsagaan Sar)

Spiritual rituals take place – milk tea is cast outside to the four compass directions as an offering for an auspicious year ahead. Traditional games are played, snuff is shared, gifts are exchanged, visits are made and New Year’s Eve in Mongolia is welcomed in with glad hearts.

"During Tsagaan Sar celebrations there are three things that you cannot do – first you cannot be angry – the second is to not be greedy and the third is not to be sad. You clear your mind and spirit of all negative things and open it up to pure clean positive thoughts. During these days you always help people and give with an open heart. If people will truly follow and observe these customs, putting old problems behind them and looking forward to the future without negative thoughts or preconceived notions the world and their lives would be truly remarkable."

(Mongolian Views, Everything You Didn’t Know About Tsagaan Sar)