Tsagaan Sar – Mongolian Lunar New Year
Tsagaan Sar is the Mongolian lunar New Year’s festival. It is often celebrated around the same time as the Chinese New Year. However, Mongolians generally deny any Chinese origin or influence, so the celebration is sometimes referred to as the Mongolian New Year or Asian New Year when translated into English.
The White Moon holiday is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice. In 2008, White Moon falls on Feb. 8th. After Naadam, Tsagaan Sar is the second-most important Mongolian holiday. Around the New Year people greet each other by saying “Amar mend uu”, a very formal greeting which one says to one’s elders. Mongolians also visit friends and family on this day and exchange gifts.
A typical Mongolian family will meet in the home dwelling of the eldest male in the family. When greeting their elders during the White Moon festival, Mongolians grasp them by their elbows to show support for them. The eldest male receives greetings from each member of the family except for his wife. During the greeting ceremony, family members hold long pieces of colored cloth called khadag. After the ceremony, the family eats buuz and drinks airag (fermented mare’s milk) and exchanges gifts.
The day before Tsagaan Sar is called “Bituun”. On this day, families gather together–immediate family usually, in contrast to the large feast gatherings of White Moon day–and see out the old year. Traditionally, Mongolians settle all issues and repay all debts from the old year by this day. Mongolians eat their fill at the Bituun meal, as tradition says that if you are hungry after Bituun you will be hungry for the whole coming year.
Traditional food for the festival includes a grilled side of sheep and minced beef or minced lamb steamed inside pastry, a dish known as buuz. Tsagaan Sar is a lavish feast, requiring preparation days in advance, as the women make large quantities of buuz and freeze them to save for the holiday.