Why do Mongolians celebrate two New Years?

Very festive, very colorful: Mongolians celebrate new year
Very festive, very colorful: Mongolians celebrate new year
In Mongolia, there is not only the holiday “New Year” but there are two of them: the traditional new years holiday Tsagaan Sar and the Western adaption of it. Amar, country manager for Mongolia, explains why.

Mongolians traditionally celebrate Tsagaan Sar, the new years feast. The first “modern” New Year was celebrated in Mongolia in the 1930ies and was initiated by a few young people who had received education in the West. However, it didn’t get much support at that time. Later in 1947, New Year was again celebrated, but this time after an initiative of the Mongolian Central Government. A first cake was made for the celebration – it had a shape of lying sheep! Also, the name “byaluu” was given to a cake which means “rich taste” in Mongolian language by famous writer.

The intention behind celebrating New Year was to introduce the European calendar and get rid off the Asian calendar system when Mongolia was under the influence of socialism and part of the community of socialist countries. Especially people living in urban places were pushed to celebrate New Year and to stop celebrating Tsagaan Sar which is the traditional holiday following the Asian or lunar calendar. Tsagaan Sar has been celebrated for centuries since the times of Chinghis Khan meaning “White Moon”. It is celebrated on the first day of spring and people celebrate that they have successfully gone through the cold Mongolian winter. During Tsagaan Sar, people pay tribute to older people regardless of their social and other status. This tradition is kept still until today. Younger people go and greet older people be it their relatives or seniors in the community. On political level, the President and Prime Minister greet the oldest people living in the capityl Ulaanbaatar.

From the early 1990ies on, Government organizations spent a lot of statal money to celebrate New Year when the country started moving to open market system. It became very normal and employers or organizations that did not celebrate New Year were considered bad employers. However, this year the government changed it policy and decided to spend tax money in a more cost effective way.

Today, people and many organizations (except for government organizations) widely celebrate the beginning of the new year towards the end of December and late January/beginning of February. Thus, my country revels twice: in a traditional way with Tsagaan Sar and in a Western way with New Year.

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