Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tsaagan Sar

Tsaagan Sar is the mother of all Mongolian holidays. Transliterated as the White Month or the White Moon, it is the Mongolian Lunar New Year in accordance to its own calendar. This year it fell on the 25th of February and ran for three days til the 27th. On the first day of Tsaagan Sar, it is customary for people with close familial ties to visit each other’s house and pay respect and welcome each other to a new and more prosperous year. People from all over the country would make the journey home; those in UB would go back to the Aimag center (provincial capital), those in the Aimag centers would make the journey to the countryside. On the second day of Tsaagan Sar, friends and co-workers would visit each other, and the third day is a continuance of the second.

The week leading up to Tsaagan Sar is probably the busiest days in the Mongolian calendar. There is much preparation to be done, but since Mongolians generally have a laid back attitude, they usually wait til the last minute to do things. You can imagine the chaos that can ensue when hundreds of people in the market are all looking for the same things to buy. And if you are stupid enough to wait til the first day of Tsaagan Sar to buy goods, you are out of luck. Everything shuts down on the three days of Tsaagan Sar; government offices, schools, banks, grocery stores, markets, everything! If you don’t have food, count on visiting Mongolian families on the days ahead to fill that belly of yours.

With that being said, I will now walk you through my three days of Tsaagan Sar. The first day was on a Wednesday, and I was told to get ready by 10 AM to start the festivities since my school director had arranged Dure, the school secretary to help Kristen and I navigate through the customs and rituals of Tsaagan Sar. Our first stop was Oyunchimeg’s house, who is a teacher at the school and my next door neighbor. We were welcomed with the customary greetings (Since I’m lazy and since so many PCV’s have already written about the proper greetings of Tsaagan Sar, I will now link you to another website if you are interested in the full details.) We sat, ate, drank, and chat for a bit and then visited the next house. There, at my training manager’s house, whom I love dearly we were treated to a feast of enormous proportions. There were your staples of salad, ham and pickles, milk tea, sweet rice, meat, and vodka. But along side these dishes, she served up some sweet stir fry, delicious home made fruit juice, a whole sheep on a platter, and even sake. While waiting for the buuz (steamed dumplings) to cook, her daughter-in-law who was an English teacher at my school years ago and currently working in UB explained to Kristen and I some of the significant traditions of the holiday. After bidding our farewell, we were given our gifts (a phone card and key chain for me), we headed on to our next house. We followed Dure to her home which is a Mongolian ger. Had the same types of food, chat, drank vodka, a general good time with a hospitable family. Next we visited another teacher who lives in the Aimag center (7km from my house), rinse and repeat the same steps as the other houses… eat, drink, chat, and get gifts. The last house of the day was my director’s house. When we arrived at her home, there was a good company of 12 or so people there already. We performed the greetings, got ourselves seated, and prepared to eat and drink the night away. And as with any other Mongolian gatherings in groups, songs were sung and fun was had. My first day of Tsaagan Sar ended with Kristen and I passing out at 7 and waking up the next day to start all over again. This time visiting 7 houses; eating a lot more food, drank a lot more alcohol, and feeling a lot more tired the next day.