The Lunar New Year in Mongolia, known in the local dialect as “Tsagaan Sar,” come on the first new moon after the winter solstice and is a symbol of the warmer days of spring just ahead.
|2020||25 Jan to 27 Jan||Sat to Mon||Lunar New Year|
|2021||12 Feb to 14 Feb||Fri to Sun||Lunar New Year|
Note: 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig; 2020 is the Year of the Iron Rat.
It is a centuries-old celebration and one steeped in the Buddhist religion, though most Mongolians of all beliefs observe the day in some fashion. The main celebrations last for three days, from the day before to the day after the new moon, but some keep up the festivities for as long as two weeks.
On the Gregorian calendar, Tsagaan Sar comes in January or February, the date varying from year to year but not drifting endlessly away. The reason for this is that Mongolia uses a combination solar-lunar calendar, which does not align with the Western solar dating system but yet keeps Tsagaan Sar firmly in mid-winter.
On “Mongolian New Year’s Eve”, there are a number of rituals that Mongolians perform in order to bring good luck for the year to come. First, houses must be cleaned out thoroughly, which is often a day-long task. Candles are lit to symbolise enlightenment and to give light to any spirits who have “become Buddhas” that might visit. Three chunks of ice are also left just outside the door, since the horse of Palden Lhamo, a Buddhist god, visits every home on New Year’s Eve and will be thirsty. Finally, a family dinner is enjoyed in the evening, card games are played in the hopes of beginning a year-long good luck streak, debts are paid off, and grudges are forgiven.
On Lunar New Year itself, people visit their relatives, beginning with their parents and continuing in order of descending age. They make many short visits to dozens of relatives. Each time, special rituals are followed. The guests must ask the hostess, “Are you living in Peace?” The hostess kisses the guest’s cheeks, gives out a gift of money or vodka, and serves tea mixed with milk. Gifts may also be exchanged.
Some activities that tourist may wish to take part in if in Mongolia for Lunar New Year include:
- Watch Mongolian wrestling competitions on TV, like many Mongolians do on their New Year’s Eve. In Mongolian folk wrestling, called “bokh,” the first person whose body touches the ground, other than the foot, loses. From the days of Genghis Khan, wrestling of this sort has been an integral part of Mongolian culture.
- Eat “Lunar New Year food,” including: “buuz” – a steamed dumpling – special cookies that are stacked in a pyramid, rice mixed with curds or raisins, sheep’s tail, horse meat, pastries filled with minced mutton, and a full side of sheep on the grill.
- Buy and dress up in traditional nomadic clothes, called “del,” which almost everyone wears this time of year. It is a large coat that overlaps in front to reach buttons on your shoulder and your side. Colourful designs are stitched on, and a long cloth belt is used. It is also customary to wear a fur hat and leather boots with curly toes with your del.
Lunar New Year is a time when Mongolians celebrate in the midst of a cold, long winter, looking forward to the spring. It is also a time when tourists learn and enjoy many interesting facets of Mongolian culture.