Happy Tsagaan Sar to all of you, and now 2012 can finally start!!
Even before I got to Mongolia, Agii was excited for me to be here in time for Tsagaan Sar, the celebration of the Mongolian lunar new year. Now I get it. The holiday is about more than starting a new year right, it’s about family coming together, and in a country where family can be far flung, the importance of coming together is honored.
Elder’s homes are visited first, so that meant Emee’s ger first. Emee is mother to 9 children, sister to Agii’s mother, and has over 15 grandchildren. She counts about 32 in the extended family, but others say it’s more. I think nearly 75% of the estimated extended family made an appearance while we were there. I had a mild fever, a head cold, and zero appetite for anything but lemon tea, but I held it together to meet more of my new Mongolian family. The greeting is special. You hold up the elder’s extended forearms draped in a blue silk prayer scarf, to show them you support them, and they kiss you warmly on both cheeks. Way better than hugs.
Preparation for Tsagaan Sar takes weeks – months for some. The spread above includes a stack of bread, sweets, milk curds, and sugar that represents Shambala, a land of peace, happiness and tranquility. The sheep beside it is referred to as “big meat” because… well, the whole sheep is there. It gets snacked on throughout the day. Husbands cut pieces off for their wives and children. Agii thankfully cut me only the tiniest piece. Everything you see on the table got snacked on, including some vodka, wine, beer, fermented mare’s milk, and endless buuz. For White Moon you’re supposed to eat lots of buzz and “white” foods (dairy products). I mostly drank wine and beer whenever I could.
Extra horses were brought out from the range for photo ops, and to be ridden by visiting family. I mostly hung with the kids, cause they weren’t trying to feed me mutton, and they were about running around and exploring. We lugged the two toddlers, Panda and Tigee up to the top of these massive rocks and took lots of photos until my camera battery died.
It didn’t help my cold at all, but it was totally worth the hike. These kids are all fantastic, and made me feel just as part of the family as all their parents have.
Things to remember for next Tsagaan Sar:
1. When you walk in the room, look for people you didn’t already give the traditional greeting to. Start clockwise and double check each face so you don’t skip anyone.
2. Don’t stick the snuff bottle up your nostril if your nostril is full of snot. If you get snot on the snuff bottle, wipe it off before handing it back to your elder.
3. Don’t get sick before Tsagaan Sar!
4. Don’t say no to vodka anymore. Ever.
Every time I came back into the ger more family appeared. Eventually we gave our gifts to Emee, and Agii’s two cousins who live there with her and made the long drive to Erdenet to celebrate with Agii’s mother and another aunt. It was an exhilirating but exhausting day. I’m so glad to have come here in time for it, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s holiday!