Tsagaan Sar…it’s like déjà vu, all over again

Tsagaan Sar cuisine consists of sheep’s tail, arig, buuz, cookies and vodka
It’s Tsagaan Sar again, and it makes me re-evaluate what kind of person I am. People might say I’m a minimalist; I try not to eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, and definitely don’t like to work too
much. So, from that perspective, and being a westerner, I guess I’ve always enjoyed being a spectator on holidays.
I can watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, college football on New Years, 4th of July fireworks, or even go to a Labor Day picnic — if someone insists. For the rest of the US holidays, I’m just happy to have a day off with pay.
But Tsagaan Sar forces you to be a participant…over and over again. This is my third Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia and I think I’m only just beginning to understand the concept and value of this remarkable, but puzzling holiday.
After my first ‘White Moon’ “holiday” I dreaded ever having to participate again. We spend a small fortune on gifts, fought traffic, crowded markets, bought and prepared tons of food including the making of a thousand buuz. We stocked up on vodka, whiskey, wine, beer, soda, and more vodka. We bought fruit, candy, nuts, made salads, assembled giant cookies covered with cheese and butter and prepared our house to receive about 100 guests. It was a lot of work that didn’t put me in the ‘holiday’ spirit.
I don’t even know how many homes we visited or how many families visited us and I felt like it was just too much activity at one time. But I’m starting to come around; starting to understand the value and meaning of this New Year’s event.
I’m learning more about Mongolian culture, Buddhism, family life, work ethic, and sincerity of Mongolian people. Our article on the year of the rabbit in this week’s issue details  some of the history and significance of
the holiday, such as meeting the New Year in a peaceful way, greeting each other with good words, not saying negative things, freeing oneself from greed or anger, doing nice things for other people and white dairy products symbolizing the preservation of purity and tranquility for the coming year.
In that context, even I can appreciate the spirit of Tsagaan Sar. But mostly, I appreciate the holiday bringing family together. In this age, culture and language are more vulnerable than ever before. Many countries, including Mongolia see their society rapidly changing as globalization increasingly encroaches on local traditions and norms. We have a number of family members that we wouldn’t ordinarily visit during the year, but Tsagaan Sar brings us back together, even for a short time, to be in touch with who we are as a family. It gives us all a sense of belonging, especially meaningful for the development of our children.
There is no American holiday like Tsagaan Sar; you would have to put Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, birthdays, and New Year’s all together and still not have something like Tsagaan Sar.
I’m not Mongolian, I may never be a ‘holiday’ guy, I know I can’t knock back vodka like my Mongolian counterparts and don’t even want to try, but with increased understanding, it’s becoming easier for me to appreciate the best things about Tsagaan Sar —sharing time with family, giving gifts,and celebrating the coming New Year

by David  Brown
source: The Mongol Messenger newspaper

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