What to do in Mongolia in February?
Lunar New Years! Mongolian Tsagaan Sar Festivities!
A.K.A. MONGOLIAN NEW YEARS
In brief, Mongolia’s Lunar New Year is between February 24-26th 2020 (called Tsagaan sar in Mongolian), Mongolians Celebrate Lunar or White Month across Mongolia as it is the biggest national celebrated festival! It is customary to celebrate the first day of Mongolia’s new spring – when old and new years change according to lunar calendar. The festival celebrates the passing of the harsh winter and the welcoming of spring. Preparation for this day means to have everything cleaned, tables set with traditional dishes – lots of meat dumplings, and families wears their best traditional garments before visiting relatives to exchange greetings and gifts.
In reality, if you are planning to travel to Mongolia during Lunar New Year – you must be ready to be a well-behaved guest as this is the time when Mongolian families across Mongolia treat one another with kindred respect, love, generosity and compassion… Literally, Mongols will “take the first morning step” early in the morning (sometimes from 4AM onwards) into the new year which they often refer to as “Mur Garah” that signifies their intent to enter into the New Year with good blessings. Well before “Bitu Oroi” or as we call it “New Year’s Eve”, Mongols will have already spent days and possibly weeks preparing 1000s of dumplings, an entire sheep (like our Turkey during Thanksgiving), countless small dishes with each having their own symbology and exact time when your should taste before entering into the hearty dumplings/sheep… literally they will get up exceptionally early in the mornings and will work on making dumplings till late at night – and no one is allowed to complain – trust me, I know… lol!
There is so much preparations that is done – everything must be spotlessly clean from A to Z… clothings, rooms, apartments, homes, cars, etc., just everything! While that is happening others will be working on preparing my personal favorite (I’m smirking… you’ll know once you experience this…) “the dumplings!” Imagine for a moment that across Mongolia everyone is dicing (not chopping, but literally finely dicing) countless kilograms of meat into tiny cubes that will later be mixed the traditional seasonings and sometimes organic herbs. After that task is done, then the meat is place into refrigerators and the kneading of dough, in great quantities, is now the task at hand… after which the dough is skillfully rolled out to which many families use Asian Cups to cut out the dumplings (like a cookie-cutter) to which spoon-fills of meat are placed in circled dough to which they are decoratively hand-pinched closed – and this cycle is repeated 1000s of times! Speaking from firsthand experience… prepare yourself for hand cramps – the Mongols will smile, laugh and then encourage you to continue… there is no escaping – LOL 😉
After days of preparation of dumplings, meats, salads, rice puddings, traditional long-dough cookies that are placed on the table like a ‘tower’, etc., the most enjoyable evening is definitively ‘Bitu Oroi’ or New Year’s Eve… many foreigners will not experience this as you must be super close to a Mongolian family to which they consider you to be a family member… Most travelers will accompany Mongols by the 4th Day of the Lunar New Year. Reason being is that ‘the days of Lunar New Year’ are significant in relation to the level or ‘closeness’ of your relations to the families that you are visiting – for example – “Bitu Oroi” is for immediate family, Lunar Day 1 is for brothers and sisters at their parent’s home, Lunar Day 2 is for close relatives, Lunar Day 3 is for distant relatives and close friends, Lunar Day 4 onwards is for friends and acquaintances….
When visit Mongolians homes – be sure that you prepare/bring the following!
- Wear something traditionally Mongol and clean (make sure your shoes shine!)… A Mongolian Hurem (traditional jacket) with a hat is a good choice.
- Bring your appetite!
What to do when visiting Mongolian homes – make sure you get this correct:
- Enter the home respectfully by the “right foot”
- Zolgoh or “open arm greet” the hostess and everyone inside
- When you are doing the “Zolgoh” – by age if you are older you will put you hands on top, if you are younger you MUST place your hands below – however – if you are the same age or barely know each other you can place your hand parallel or one on top and one on the bottom.
- Literally there are dozen upon dozens of traditional customs that must be ceremoniously observed – where to sit, what to first taste, when/what to speak, who to show respects to during the dinning table experience, etc., etc., etc….
If you deeply desire to experience this incredible Mongolian Experience – I highly recommend that you do join our GER to GER Lunar New Year’s Experience… it’s the only way that you can safely and enjoyably experience this tradition with nomadic families that are both caring, loving, etc., that will not judge you if you make some mistakes.