See also: Tsagaan Sar in Khentii: A Mongolian Lunar New Year Celebration in the Countryside

to read an impression of the celebration at a family in the province capital Ondorkhaan
and Don Croners Tsogchin ceremony at Dambadarjaa Monastery


Tsagaan Sar: The Mongolian Lunar New Year



The festival of the lunar New Year, Tsagaan Sar, is celebrated in or around February depending on the Mongolian lunar calendar. It generally coincides with other lunar New Year celebrations, like the Chinese. Often, however, Mongolians deny any Chinese origin or influence. In the 1960s, the communist government tried to transform it into Cattle Breeders` Day and official celebration was stopped. On the day of Tsagaan Sar increased checks on employee presence would occur. Neverthless, like with other traditionsand religious activities, some families remain a surreptious practise, especially in countryside. When the party tries to reaffirm traditional values in the late eighties it again becomes a public holiday. Still the festival has its pre-revolutionary character of reaffirming kin ties. Tsagaan Sar, meaning White Month or Moon, is one the main two big public annual events, next to the Nadaam. It marks the end of Winter and the beginning of spring and the new year´s cycle.


The Celebration

The day before New Years Day is known as Bituun, meaning “to close down”.  At the eve of the old year there is a celebration called Bituuleg. There is a big amount of “covered food”, where the meat is covered by for instance a layer of dough. Also the Ul Boov is created: a pile of ceremonial bread (boov) in an odd number of layers. Later traditional games can be played, and oral histories are told. It is said that at Bituun Baldanlham, a local god, is riding her mule during this time. She would be coming by three times so every family puts three pieces of ice on the top of the door of the ger, or on the balcony for people living in an apartment, for the mule to drink.

On the morning of the New Year traditionally the head of the family goes outside and walks in a direction which is prescribed in a book of Buddhist astrology. During New Years day itself the children honour their senior relatives. They start with their parents and then following the rules of genealogical seniority the other relatives, traditionally presenting them an amount of white food or pastry, but nowadays more and more other gifts as well. White and blue scarves, khadag, are presented to the most honoured. The rest of the festival which goes on for several days, is a celebration of present kinship. It is an occasion to publicly define your kin. A Buryat person once said his kin-group is all the people he visits at Tsagaan Sar.

Traditionally the celebration would last for three days, but a period of seven days is currently aloud for visiting people and up to a month for wishes.


In Buryatia the main shamanistic ritual called the Great sacrifice is held on the third day of Tsagaan sar. With the Daur Mongols, as described by Caroline Humphrey in Shamams and elders: Expierence knowledge and power among the Daur Mongols, the tsagaan sar is very much related to shamanism. On the eve of the lunar New Year there is an offering to the Sky. In this ritual Seven Stars, also known as seven old men, and all of the spirits of a household are remembered as well. A small table is placed in the yard, on which nine bowls of water and sticks of incense are placed. A huge fire is lit outside the courtyard, its smoke rising to heaven. The heat of the smoke should melt the icicles on the whiskers of the dragon. Furthermore the shaman will have a communal ritual shortly after New Year in his home and there will be a “purifying body ritual” done by the shaman at the beginning of the first month of each lunar New Year. The breast mirror and some coloured stones are put in a pot of water and boils the water, transforming it into arshan – sacred water. And it is splashed over the shaman’s body with a kitchen brush, then over the clan members. The ritual is also to give protection.

For the Buryats the lunar New Year is very much related to Lamaism. In the monasteries on New Year’s eve rubbish is burned, symbolising people’s sins over the past year and after this a service to Lhame, the protector of the faith. In the more religious families the Lamaist religious paintings are for the only time in the year. The paintings are done in canvas, with a wide silk border and have similarities with the thankas. In front of the paintings lamps of oil and incense are burned and small prayer wheels are turned. Prayers are said in honour of the dead kin and especially for patrilineal ancestors.


Edited from: A Fire On The Steppes: Religion and public celebrations of Greater Mongolia.




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