Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tsagaan Sar

The lunar new year (or tsagaan sar, as they call it here) has come and gone and Spring is officially here. The weather is behaving accordingly and warming up quite nicely. There's still a bit of a chill in the air but it won't be long before the ice and snow melt and we're left with a huge mud puddle practically on our door step from the ice skating rink they made outside.

Anyway, We left Sunday afternoon for UB and spent the evening there with Hetee's grandma. She was overjoyed to see us and, in true Mongolian form, fussed over us with abandon. For those of you who are not familiar with Mongolian tsagaan sar traditions, here's a little run-down for ya.

Tsagaan sar 101:
Tsagaan sar, one of the main Mongolian holidays, is considered the holiday of the elderly. For 3 days, they reign supreme. Perched at the head of the table, surrounded by family and friends, they are doted upon and treated with lots of love and all the respect they deserve.

The food of choice? Meat dumplings or "buuz" are they are called in Mongolian. These are washed down with milk tea, a mixture of, you guessed it, milk and tea but with salt added. It's pretty nasty stuff. Many houses also serve, "airag", fermented mare's milk. mmmmm.

The tables are set with plates of buuz, a baked sheep's butt, and a pile of cookie type thingys with candies, dried milk curds, and other delicacies piled high on top of it. It really is quite a sight. (I'd have pictures but, once again I forgot to take them. Kenny was sick and fussy most of the time so my mind was not on taking pictures, sorry.)

After everyone has had all the buuz and potato salad they can handle, the shot glasses are brought out and filled with vodka. The host makes a toast and then the songs start. Each person must sing a song then take a swig of their vodka. It gets loud after a while, as I'm sure you can imagine.

After about an hour or so, everyone leaves and goes to the next elderly relative's house and the whole process starts all over again. We don't drink the vodka, but we are expected to eat the buuz and sheep butt and drink the milk tea. We visited 4 houses in UB, and 6 today in Darkhan. That adds up to a LOT of buuz and by the 4th house, I was feeling pretty sick. And when the host brought out a bottle of Chinese vodka that had a snake curled up in it, that pretty much put me over the top. Everything after that was a blur.

I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about all the buuz I ate. But seeing the joy on the faces of all those elderly people, including my Mongolian grandmother and aunts and uncles, makes me feel good inside. Our family really blessed them and made them happy and, in the end, that's all that matters, anyway.


Gombojav said...

We celebrated with some relatives that Gana has in Los Angeles. It was actually fun to do it the true Mongolian way again. For the last two years we've observed it with just our little family.

Happy New Year!

amanda said...

i celebrated in a modified way with some friends here. we made buuz, and i ate too much and felt quite sick the rest of the day. just getting my stomach ready for next winter i guess. hehe