Lunar New Year Festival
Tsagaan Sar, the “Festival of the White Moon”, is celebrated on the first day of the first month of spring according to the lunar calendar. It is the most important holiday in Mongolia. The Mongolian nomads have been worshipping eternal Blue Heaven, Earth, and their Water and Mountain Spirits since times immemorial, herding their “five kinds” of domestic animals: horses, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. They wish for their herds to enter the New Year infertility, greeting each other with the words. "Are your foals fat and your cakes strong in beginning the New Year?”.
The day before Tsagaan Sar is called “Bituun”, meaning the "covered (day)". On Bituun, the Mongolians send off the old year and prepare to welcome the New Year. They clean their yurt until it is spick and span, and they prepare three meals. They cook rice and mix it with fat, and in the evening they make “buuz” and “khuushuur” (steamed and fried meat dumplings) and offer the best of their food and drink to everyone in their yurt camp. Another custom observed until the present day is for those who have quarreled in the outgoing year to make it up, exchanging snuff bottles in token of friendship. In the evening, people put three pieces of clear ice on the lintels of the doors of their yurts to water the steeds of the gods who watch over the plenty of their wealth and the health and happiness of their lives. On the morning of Tsagaan Sar, the housewife gets up early, makes tea, prepares food and drink, and steams buuz and bansh (two kinds of meat dumplings). On this day, parents, children, and everyone else all put on new deels (gowns), boots, hats, and other clothes. The head of the household and his wife do not exchange New Year's greetings, because according to Mongolian custom, husband and wife melt into one human being in mind and in the body.
During the New Year's greetings, people hold “Khadags” (ceremonial silk scarves) of different colors, stretch out their palms, and the younger one grips the older one under the elbow in a gesture of support, asking, "Are you well?" and letting himself or herself be kissed on the cheeks. When two riders meet in the steppe, they greet each other by taking their right foot out of the stirrup. Every family arranges a fat boiled sheep's rump or ox breast on a plate and puts it on a table together with the shoulder and the four longest ribs of a boiled sheep, a boiled sheep's head, and yellow and white butter. Tileshaped cakes or oilcake are stacked in five, seven or nine layers. The odd number of layers symbolizes the chain of joy, sorrow, joy... It is easy to observe that there is joy at the bottom as well as on the top. The guests coming to visit a family are all given presents, regardless if they are children or old people. These presents may be cakes, sweets or boiled meat, but also silk to make a deel or clothes. Moreover, a horse or a sheep is chosen to be given to the favorite son of the family. There is the custom to ‘choose one's direction’ before sunrise on the morning of Tsagaan Sar. People climb a nearby mountain with a cairn on top, shoot arrows onto a target, and pray for good luck for their group. Moreover, they sprinkle milk to Heaven and to the mountains, asking them for a good life. Tsagaan Sar is the most splendid festival of the Mongolian nomads, expressing the coming of spring and milder weather.