Last year on New Year’s day, we took a train into the countryside for the first sunrise of the year. The train went east for about an hour and a half and then stopped in the middle of nowhere and we got off. As the sunrise drew closer, people faced east and got out their dairy offerings (mostly milk and aaruul, aka Mongolian cheese curds). People chanted a word that loosely translates to “Hooray,” and they raised their arms and threw offerings into the sky as the sun got closer. And then the sun came up.
In the field next to the train (literally right next to it, you don’t have to walk more than 20 feet), there was a bonfire, and a short a ceremony took place before the sunrise. There were some speeches in Mongolian, I am assuming that they were welcoming in the new year, followed by a religious ceremony / dance.
Our tickets got us seats in sleeper cabins on an festively decorated train — Santa Clause adorned our cabin window and is a common New Year’s decoration here — and included a showcase of Mongolian performances on the dining car. On the trip back, a woman performed long song, another woman danced, a throat singer performed, and to top it off our emcee performed an Italian song from The Godfather movies.
To do this trip we had had to leave the house at 5 a.m. to get to the field in time for sunrise, but it was worth it. This year we opted to sleep in so we could go out on New Year’s Eve. We got a table at a restaurant overlooking Sukhbaatar Square and watched the fireworks: