Did you know that Lunar New Year is celebrated all across Asia? While Lunar New Year is labeled as one event, in each place it is celebrated it looks a little different! Today, we're diving into the enchanting world of Mongolia, where Tsagaan Sar (Lunar New Year) takes place. This unique celebration blends tradition, family, and a sprinkle of magic, making it a cultural experience unlike any other. Fun fact: Josh went to visit Uyanga and her family during this time! This is also where he was introduced to Mongolian Cashmere! So, buckle up as we uncover some of the vibrant traditions that define this joyous occasion!
What is the Lunar New Year?
The Mongolian Lunar New Year, also known as the White Moon Festival is celebrated with much pomp and grandeur, Tsagaan Sar marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring—a time when the harsh Mongolian steppes thaw and bloom with the promise of a new season (and a fresh harvest of cashmere!)
What makes this festival particularly intriguing is its connection to the lunar calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Mongolian calendar is based on lunar months. As a result, the date of Tsagaan Sar shifts each year, aligning with the first new moon following the winter solstice. This lunar link imbues the celebration with a mystical quality, as families come together to welcome the new year. During this celebration, there are some distinct traditions that are celebrated only by Mongolians. Let’s take a look at some of these amazing traditions.
The Day Before, Honoring Ancestors
At the core of Tsagaan Sar is a deep respect for ancestors, beautifully expressed through honouring them. The day before Tsagaan Sar always lands on a full moon. Families pay homage to departed loved ones by visiting cemeteries and performing rituals to honor their spirits. After these ceremonies, Mongolians are expected to feast and eat as much as they can in order to be full to start the New Year (starting the year off with a full belly!). With offerings of food, milk, and other items, these ceremonies symbolize the eternal bond between the living and the departed, creating a poignant moment of reflection and gratitude during the festive season. Once this has been completed, people are ready for the festivities that take place the next day!
Zolgolt, the Art of Gift-Giving
During Tsagaan Sar, the act of zolgolt takes center stage. This is a traditional greeting that Mongolians do during the New Year celebrations. Traditionally, the younger family members will greet their elders with their arms out, placed underneath the elder’s. A traditional greeting is then said, and a gift is given by the younger person to the elder. Zolgolt is not just any gift; it's a symbolic token of love, appreciation, and respect. What makes it special is the traditional khadag scarf that wraps around the present, turning the exchange into a visual delight. From everyday items to more elaborate offerings, zolgolt fosters a sense of community and strengthens bonds within families. After these greetings, the meal can begin!
Buuz, the Culinary Delight
No Tsagaan Sar celebration is complete without the mouthwatering aroma of buuz filling the air. These steamed dumplings, meticulously crafted with minced meat, onions, and spices, are a family affair. Buuz-making is a cherished tradition, with households coming together to create these savory treats in large quantities. On average, a Mongolian family will make over 1000 buuz in preparation for Tsagaan Sar! The number of buuz consumed is believed to bring good fortune for the coming year, and it is customary to sample everything that is offered on the hosts’ table or else you risk offending your host. With having feasted the night before, be ready to have an incredibly full stomach on Tsagaan Sar!
Shagai, Rolling the Bones for Luck
Get ready for some lighthearted fun with the Shagai game—a traditional Mongolian pastime. This delightful game is wildly popular to this day. Shagai are sheep ankle bones that have been cleaned and polished. Each bone side represents a different animal. In the game, the goal is to flick an ankle bone to hit bones showing the same animal. The goal is to win the most bones. Additionally, they can be rolled to determine one's fortune for the upcoming year, adding a playful touch to the Tsagaan Sar celebrations. The Shagai game is a delightful way to usher in the new year with laughter and good spirits.
Happy New Year!
In the traditions of Tsagaan Sar, we discover a harmonious blend of ancient customs and contemporary celebrations. Whether you're exchanging zolgolt, savoring the flavors of buuz, rolling the shagai for luck, or participating in Khelek ceremonies, each tradition adds a special touch to this joyous Mongolian Lunar New Year. Cheers to the unique customs that make Tsagaan Sar a celebration like no other!
Looking to find out more about Tsagaan Sar? Check out our Instagram page to see some of the traditions for your own eyes!