TSAGAAN SAR - MONGOLIAN LUNAR NEW YEAR
The other important Mongolian holiday is Tsagaan Sar, literally the “White Month,” or New Year’s Day, which has been celebrated since the time of the Mongol Empire. Although Mongolia uses the Gregorian calendar, the lunar calendar is also used due to tradition and religious practice, and thus Tsagaan Sar usually falls in February or early March. As with most New Year celebrations, Tsagaan Sar focuses on happiness and an optimistic future, and the color white is considered an auspicious color in Mongolian tradition. During the holiday and days preceding it, offerings are made to ancestral spirits or in honor of their memories. Blessings are made. Owing to Communist oppression of the holiday and a decline in religiosity, the holiday has changed considerably over the years. Now, in addition to being a holiday that is both thanksgiving and looking forward to a good year, it has become a holiday for visiting family and friends.
A central part of the celebration is food and buuz, devoured in great quantities, followed by liberal doses of vodka. The buuz serves another purpose: families often put a silver coin in one buuz, and according to tradition, whoever finds it will have prosperity in the coming year. At family gatherings in the countryside, the largest sheep in the flock, or in the city, the largest a family can buy, is cooked and eaten. It becomes, like the Thanksgiving turkey, a point of pride. The importance of food is marked in the preparations for the holiday, which often begins a month before the holiday. During the Communist period, Tsagaan Sar came under attack. During the religious purges, the celebration of Tsagaan Sar was criticized, although during some years the criticism decreased. During World War II, herders received government approval to celebrate the holiday—perhaps because Josef Stalin, occupied with the Nazis, was too busy to notice or to care. In 1954 the holiday was declared a workday and the government again began a crackdown against it. Nonetheless, their efforts failed. While not willing to admit defeat, the government found a solution by making Tsagaan Sar “Collective Herders’ Day” in 1960. Not until 1988 did Tsagaan Sar receive official recognition as a national holiday.