How do Mongols celebrate Tsagaan sar?
Mongolian elders have a saying “Autumn comes after Naadam”, we came up with another saying that goes “Tsagaan sar comes after New Year”. Well, the Tsagaan sar and New Year have actually the same meaning though they are different holidays.
As any other Asian countries, Mongolians have their own unique Lunar New Year - “own” New Year's celebration too. Tsagaan sar literally means “White Moon” or “White month” and it's celebrated widely in Mongolia. For Westerners, Tsagaan sar is a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebration. It means that it’s the most important holiday of the year! We celebrate that we survived successfully and passed the winter with a full stomach, adventurous, without any loss of livestock, and welcoming the oncoming spring. The holiday is officially continued for four days in a row including the “eve” of Tsagaan sar aka Bituun.
The Tsagaan sar was held the first year of Mongol calendar also known as Lunisolar calendar. By the Gregorian calendar, the holiday is happened between the first of January to late February. In 2020, Tsagaan sar's eve is going to happen on the 24th of February.
Prior to Tsagaan sar, hundreds of buuz, Mongolian version of dumpling, are prepared. During the preparation, we, including all the children and our parents gather at our elders’ home, and start making hundreds of buuz together. It’s funny that everybody got their roles in “buuz” making. The roles are: pincher who makes the buuz with rolled dough and meat stuffing, roller who rolls out the dough thinly; and the “buuz accountant” though the name “accountant” is silly, that person is doing the most important job I think. The buuz accountant carefully counts and arrange them outside or freezer to freeze, and then after it’s frozen he/she does the packing.
Oh.. By the way, buuz making is also a great period to introduce your significant other to your family because almost every family member gathers in one place and has this familiar warm vibe!
On the eve of Tsagaan sar, called Bituun, all the families clean up their homes, set up their huge meal table, and prepare for the celebration. In the evening, families feast in their homes together departing from the previous year with full stomach ensures that the family will not experience hunger during the next year.
On the first day of Tsagaan sar, all the family members start their holiday/new year by doing “Mur Gargakh” ritual that is making the first footprint or foot mark of the upcoming year appropriately. After that, we first visit our parents’ and then our relatives from eldest to youngest, and then friends’ home. When we visit the family, we do the special ritual called “zolgoh” (greeting). After zolgokh, almost all adult men exchange “khuurug” (snuff bottle) with each other.
Because of our nomadic tradition we used to live far away from each other and during this holiday, families, relatives and friends who live far away from each other could finally meet up again after a long time.
During the Tsagaan sar, when you visit a family, you’ll be offered dozens of buuz and varieties of salads (a big share of food) etc. Then you have to eat at least two to three buuzs and some salads from each family you visited. Moreover, you will be offered to drink milk tea, airag (fermented mare’s milk) and in some families, a vodka toast.
Before leaving the host family, every visitors get any types of gifts which prepared in advance by the host. I remember that when I was in my teenage years I did not really like the presents that I get during Tsagaan sar because I only loved eating sweets and candies or playing with games! I usually got a pair of socks with cash or sometimes sweets. But as I get older, I prefer getting socks and cash because I need them in my everyday life.
After you finish the visit, you’ll visit another family. The family ranges from your parents to your relatives and friends. So, all these happen again and again for three days in a row.