21 February 2012

Tsagaan Sar - White Month - Mongolian Lunar New Year

Look out at the sky and look at the moon. On February 22nd 2012, you will see a new crescent. As the moon passed from its dark phase into the new crescent (Feb 21st-22nd) so the Mongolians began the celebration of their new year - known as Tsagaan Sar (White Month).

Celebrate 'Bituun' - the close down of the old year before the welcoming of the new.
Image by Egon Filter on one of our adventures  at Khongoryn Els
Tsagaan Sar is one of the most important celebrations in Mongolia and marks the end of winter and the beginning of a new year's cycle. Mongolians believe that the colour white symbolizes happiness, purity and an abundance of milk products (Tsagaan Sar symbolises wealth and prosperity in the family).

Tsagaan Sar is a time when Mongolians come together to show respect to the family elders and to renew friendship. The preparation for Tsagaan Sar begins many weeks before the actual national holiday. Mongolians like to start off the new year with their ger, apartment, or house being very clean. Many families will take this time to redecorate by buying new flooring or rugs to hang on the walls. In addition to new household goods, families will buy new clothing as well. On Tsagaan Sar, you can usually find Mongolians wearing a new, clean deel (Mongolian traditional dress).

The day before New Years Eve is called Bituun - this means 'to close down'. On this day people eat to be full - it is believed that if you stay hungry you will be hungry for the coming year. On the Tsagaan Sar table will be bread, meat, up to (or more than) 1000 buuz (dumplings) and the fat tail of a sheep. According to custom, the fattest sheep should be killed and the lower back and tail boiled and served on the table for the entire holiday.

Tradition states that before starting the meal, the host parts with the old year in a symbolic ceremony. Having placed a leg of lamb on his plate, he slices it and gives everyone a piece. Then he breaks the bone and draws out the marrow, thus symbolizing the opening of the New Year.
Tsagaan Sar is a time for traditions - such as the giving and receiving of the snuff bottle.
Image taken by Egon Filter en route on one of our adventures
On the morning of the New Year everyone rises bright and early to greet the sun. Traditionally, members of the household honour the nature and spirits of Mongolia by going to an ovoo - a stone shrine placed on a hill or mountain top. They will take food and offerings and the oldest will voice words of gratitude and praise to the spirit of the mountain and the surrounding area.

In order to have health and happiness in the new year each individual must take their 'first steps of the New Year'. Their lunar year of birth and the current year will dictate the direction that they walk in - it is believed to be important to start your way in the right direction on the first day of the new year.

After the first steps are taken all family members re-enter their home and start the Tsagaan Sar greetings. The snuff bottle is passed round. During New Year's Day children honour their senior relatives. White and blue scarves, khadag, are presented to the most honoured as a symbol of respect (white scarves symbolise milk and the blue the Eternal Sky).
During Tsgaan Sar, both white and blue khadags are given as a symbol of respect.
 As Tsagaan Sar is celebrated by Mongolians all previous things pass away with the previous year. As the new crescent moon rises so the new year starts - positive and white (or clean).

Shine jilin mend khurgie!