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Tsagaan sar – Lunar Year

The name means white month and celebrates the passing of winter and beginning of spring. Tsagaan Sar was originally an end of summer festival, but once again it was Genghis Khan who changed things, moving the event to the end of winter in 1216. The Mongolian lunar calendar uses five cycles of twelve years.

Each cycle being named after an element (earth, water, fire, iron and wind) and each year after one of twelve animals. The Lunar calendar doesn’t operate within the European twelve month system and hence Lunar New Year dates change every year. The festival is celebrated at the end of January or beginning of February and officially lasts three days.

The best place to celebrate Tsagaan Sar is in the countryside, where it is a real demonstration of Mongolia’s traditional customs and culture. People greet each other in a unique way, young people cross their hands under the hands of older people and say Amar baina uu, which is the traditional new year greeting that means “How are you?”.

During Tsagaan Sar, almost everyone visits all their friends and relatives. Much of the festival involves sitting round the ger stove passing food and drink backwards and forwards, always using right hand to accept food or alcohol. Visitors are given gifts in almost every ger they visit. In Ulaanbaatar Tsagaan Sar is a shorter holiday, but with the same hospitality, visiting schedule, food and drink.

Relative meanings of Lunar New Year – “Tsagaan Sar”:
a. Worshiping of Heavenly God – The Sky (sprinkling up of milk)
b. New Year Greeting (zolgoh)
c. Celebration of Beginnings (giving price)
d. Celebration of Love and Care (meet by hugging)
e. Spring – Seasonal Holiday (scattering of cereal grains)
f. Herders’ Day (sprinkling up of milk and scattering of rice and grain)
g. Elders’ Day (hearing of a wish by the elders)
h. Family Day (gathering of relatives)
i. National Holyday – Like “Naadam”, games and celebration (wrestling, horse racing, anklet bone games)

What respect can we show when we visit a family during Tsagaan Sar?
Greeting the head of the family with hadag is an honorable tradition but you can keep the hadag with you. The hadag has to be wrapped around your thumb. It is important to offer them the Royal emblem (money with picture of the Chingis Khaan or other hero) but it is not necessary to give a big amount of money. At first you must take from the delicacy which is offered before meal and do the same when you go out of the ger or house. It is not pleasant to give a gift with dark or brown color, but if you do so, you can add some white colored gifts like sugar cubes or candies etc.

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