Cultural Connections

Musings about my experiences, art, and life in Mongolia and beyond.

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Location: Ulaanbaatar, Tuv aimag, Mongolia

Native Chicagoan currently teaching in Mongolia.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"Tsagaan Sar"

Sunday, February 19th, 20+ degrees F
…Or “White Month”, is the start of the traditional Mongolian new year. Traditionally it was a herdsmen’s holiday. Today, it’s a family holiday much like American Christmas or Thanksgiving. There is much preparation of special foods and small gifts for family and close friends. People go from home to home (or ger to ger) visiting, eating, drinking and greeting each other for the new year. Generally, this lasts about 3 days in the city, but seems to carry out through the week until all the food has been eaten and all family and friends have been greeted.

A special food table is created for this holiday. Many white foods are bought and made as white is the color of good luck for the new year. The items are stacked in layers on a kind of large round cookie. Many of these items include dairy products such as cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep and yak milk. There are also white cakes, cookies and candy including rock candy that looks like a pure crystal. To drink, there is airag, fermented mare’s milk, also milk tea, and of course vodka! The center piece is the back of a young sheep - symbolic for the herdsmen and for good herds in the coming year. And the main course – buuz! The traditional steamed meat dumplings. I have heard that families make hundreds of these to feed their guests.

I was invited to the homes of some of my artist friends. We toasted each other for the coming new year and I got to sample all of the traditional foods and drinks. I only wished my own family and friends could have experienced this.

People also go to the local Buddhist temple during the first week. There they ask the monks and Lamas about their horoscope for the coming year – if the year of the pig will be prosperous or not. They also make special prayer requests for the protection of their families.

There is also a custom amongst the men. (I haven’t heard of any for the women.) They climb to the top of one of the four sacred mountain peaks that surrounds UB. At the top of this southern peak, is an ovoo, a kind of shrine. This sacred spot is designated by a pile of rocks and offerings. The men walk clockwise around this shrine (usually 3 times) and cast small rocks onto the pile. There are also offerings of khatags (blue silk scarves) and perhaps vodka. This is a kind of appeasement to the gods for a year of prosperity and well being.

Happy Year of The Pig!


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