Tsagaan sar


Every nation of the world has its traditional holidays, festivals, feasts and games. Mongols settled in the steppe area of Central Asia and living a nomadic life have been celebrating the new year holiday at a certain time of natural cycles like other nations of the world. For centuries holiday is called "Tsagaan sar" ­the White month. Old sources testify that "Tsagaan sar" was first declared a state holiday in the "Year of the Tiger",1206 and used to be celebrated in autumn. But since 1267 it has been celebrated in the first month of spring by the order of Khubilai khan of Yuan state.

This new year holiday celebration was prohibited on a wide scale but remained only as a holiday of herdsmen due to a policy of dictatorship established in Mongolia in the 20th century. But the people revived the holiday and began to celebrate it on a nationwide scale in the 1990s.
As well as 'Tsagaan sar" being a state grand holiday for centuries, the preparation also has fixed orders.
The customary preparation for welcoming 'Tsagaan sar". Many kinds of food for the holiday feast have to be prepared in strict sequence in abundance, one month before the beginning of "Tsagaan sar". It is believed that a perfect preparation brings good fortune and auspicious happiness for the coming year. In cases of bad luck of something at the feast an unhappy sentiment will follow for the next year. Therefore, people try to prepare for the welcoming of "Tsagaan sar" as well as they can, taking into consideration the next year's fortune and happiness.
The Customary clothing for the holiday. The tradition of wearing new clothes on the occasion of new year is regarded as a belief in being nice-looking and cheerful during the coming year. Marco Polo noted that all Mongols of the 13th century dressed in white clothes during "Tsagaan sar" holidays.
The Customary preparation of food and drink. Preparation for the new year feast of food and drink begins in autumn. Preparation of Hle choicest food and drink for offering is the most important and meticulous work to be done in advance. Special, importance is attached to being ready. Children are given a special piece of meat which is called the "personal present meat" and custom forbids fostering hope in children or hurting their feelings during "Tsagaan sar".
The main ceremonial dish at the feast is a whole boiled sheep's rump as well as other parts of the sheep. Buuz, or dumplings, are also considered one of the main dishes and every family has to prepare at least 300-500 pieces. This is the most quickly prepared food for the guests and according to Mongolian custom hermetically prepared dishes are considered an offering of honor.
The Custom of "Bituuleg". The last day of the outgoing year is called "bituun" and the feast given at night, "Bituuleg". There is no moonlight and the night is dark therefore it is called "Bituun" which means "covered with darkness". Tradition demands you finish all work, obligation. chares etc. begun in the outgoing year. In the night of "bituun" different kinds of dishes and drinks are to be cooked and neighboring families gather in one's home and young and old playa game called "alag melhii" which means "multicolored turtle" until late. Hermetically prepared dishes like dumplings and fried meat pie are the preferred food to be served this night. It is believed that the smell of frying will suppress all bad luck accumulated in the outgoing year. A piece of ice is to be put on the west side of the door, a branch of prickly wood and three pieces of snow on the left side with a belief that this will be an obstacle for coming bad luck. Candles are to be kept lit through all the night of "bituun". Feasting people take care of their herds, clean instruments and give respect to sutra­canons, books etc. on the occasion of "bituun". For example, all the herds except horses are to be kept near the ger. Beating and cutting any kind of animal is prohibited. Also wandering is proscribed as it is believed that to stay at home will help to accumulate virtues.
The custom of worship to the Sky. People are to get up before sunrise on the first morning of the new year and come with trays of food to the nearest "ovoo" - a ritual pile of stones. raised on top of a hill or mountain pass and pray to the sky with words of gratitude and praise. This means the first thing to greet in the new year is the sky.
The custom of breaking trail. Tradition requires performing a ritual of breaking trail towards the good direction which is to be done after offering to the fire with a belief that all travel in the coming year will be lucky.
The custom of the "Tsagaan sar" greeting. After offering to the Sky and Buddha, there is the greeting ceremony called "zolgolt" - a special ritual of greeting. The Grandfather, grandmother and parents are to sit in the honored part of the accommodation and children are to greet them raising a "Khadag" - a blue scarf with a manner of offer and good wishes for the new year. Peers greet each other standing and crossing the two "khadag". Family couples are not supposed to greet each other as they are regarded as indivisible halves of one person. There are traditional phrases of greeting such as "Amar cain baina uu?" - Are you doing good and healthy? , "Sar shine saikhan shinelj baina uu?" - Are you enjoying a happy new year? "Have you spent a good winter and meeting nice spring?" and the answers will be "Targan tavtai khavarjij baina" - We have had a good winter and are enjoying a nice spring. "Daaga dalantai, byaruu bulchintai, tuleg suultei on mend saikhan orvuu?" - It's a firm hope that you have met the spring with healthy and fat young livestock."
After the performance of greeting rituals the family members and guests begin the feast. Traditionally, people do not sing at the "Tsagaan sar" feast but resuming the past year's work and talking about the future.
The custom of "Tsagaan sar" visiting. People visit each other's homes beginning from the first day of the new year to perform 'Tsagaan sar" greetings. It is strictly proscribed to pass one's home in accordance with a proverb that says "piebald hors is the more beautiful horse among all and being biased to the relatives has the worst behavior". Groups of old and young people' dressed in brand new garments and riding the best horses visit each others homes, near and far. Every family prepares tea, food and alcohol and all those on the table are to be tasted by the guests.
Thus, the Mongolian nomads have celebrated the 'Tsagaan sar" holiday for many centuries, and created its peculiar procedures and fixed order of customs.