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 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.