Read it in French: Comment les Mongols Célèbrent Tsagaan Sar
Like the Lunar New Year that’s celebrated across many Asian countries, the Tsagaan sar is the Mongolian version of it and the observance of the upcoming “new year” or “new moon”. It is one of Mongolia’s most widely celebrated national holidays, like the Naadam festival. Friends and family get together after a long time of not seeing each other, sometimes even coming across distant relatives you have not seen in 5-10 years. It really is a special moment for Mongolians to unite as a people.
For any celebration, there needs to be planned preparation. You can sometimes expect over hundred guests in one day, so having enough food, drinks, and gifts is really important. Long hours of cooking, cleaning, and shopping can be observed a few days before Tsagaan sar.
Since most of the food is expected to be homemade, kids and adults alike spend days in the kitchen making buuz, niislel salat, and other national Mongolian cuisines. For authentic Mongolian dishes, you can read here.
Bituun as Mongolians call is the day before Tsagaan sar. It is a calm and a quiet time to reflect on your past year. You eat as much buuz as you can until your stomach is full because anything less than completely full would be considered disrespectful towards your culture.
After the Bituun, next day early in the morning you have to perform a short ritual according to your zodiac sign and the lunar calendar. It differs person to person since the day, month, and the year you were born can influence what you are supposed to do for the ritual. Usually you light a matchstick, throw wood towards the northern direction, and say a few Tibetan phrases.
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes and once you are done, the very first thing you must do is ZOLGOH with your family. Zolgoh is to put your hands above or below the other person’s hand, above if you are older, or below if you are younger, and kiss/smell their cheeks. It’s sort of similar to the French Bisou plus the hands.
The most fun part of Tsagaan sar is visiting your relatives and eating food wherever you go whilst giving and receiving gifts. It’s a big treat for the kids since they get candy, money, clothes, and gifts from 10+ families.
Giving and receiving gifts is a big part of Tsagaan sar. It’s looked down upon to not have gifts for friends and relatives whom you visit. So if you ever come to celebrate Tsagaan sar in Mongolia, make sure to bring gifts. It does not have to be anything fancy, a simple sock, hat, chocolate bar, etc will do.
If you happen to be visiting your elderly relatives, you most likely have to venture out into the countryside. It usual to see the capital city Ulaanbaatar very empty during the Tsagaan sar period with a lot of traffic on the outskirts of the town.
In any Mongolian party or festivity, there is a lot of vodka to go with it. It’s pretty common to take shot after shot whilst singing, bantering, and eating within a group of 20 people around a small table. When Mongolian celebrate, Mongolians literally celebrate and go all out.
Some cry with joy, some deeply reflect on their past year, some go crazy and drink more vodka, and some just enjoy the atmosphere and appreciate the blessing of the day called Tsagaan sar.