Tsagaan Sar (Цагаан Сар) is the Mongolian festival of the Lunar New Year. It comes on the first new moon after the winter solstice and lasts three days (this year from the 5 Feb to 7 Feb!). Tsagaan Sar means ‘white moon’ and represents the first day of spring. It’s a unique family celebration with very ancient origins.
The harsh winter is over and people start preparing for this celebration weeks earlier. Customs vary depending on the region, but common traditions include greetings, gift exchange, national Mongol garments, and of course, food. The main dish is buuz (бууз), mouth-watering steamed dumplings filled with meat, but during the festival, you can taste also dairy products (цагаан идээ), rice with curds or raisins, and drink airag (айраг), fermented mare’s milk. If you’ve never tried it, you should – but it’s definitely an acquired taste!
The day before Tsagaan Sar is called bituun (битүүн) and symbolizes the New Moon making it particularly special. People clean their house and light candles to symbolize enlightenment of the samsara. There is a Mongolian wrestling competition on TV and it’s said that whoever is lucky the evening before Tsagaan Sar will be lucky all year long! That’s the reason why Mongolians play traditional games during this day.
The greeting tradition of Tsagaan Sar
The greeting tradition is one of the most amazing aspects of this festival and this culture. Mongolians greet each other holding khadag (хадаг), which are traditional white or blue scarves.
Now that you know a bit more about Mongolia’s traditional holiday, why not learn a few key phrases? If you’re planning on visiting Mongolia this winter for Tsagaan Sar, then you’ll be sure to impress the locals 🙂
One of the most common greetings/statements during Bituun is ‘сайхан битүүлээрэй’ (saikhan bituuleerei). The most common question to ask your host is: ‘Сайхан битүүлж байна уу?’ (saikhan bituulj bain uu?) and they would respond with ‘Сайхан битүүлж байна аа’ (saikhan bituulj bain aa!).
You would generally greet someone during the holiday season with ‘Сар шинэдээ сайхан шинэлээрэй!’ (sar shindee saihan shinleerei).
So from all of us here at Tribalingual – Happy New Year and Sar shindee saihan shinleerei!
Join us and celebrate Mongolian New Year with Tribalingual!