In February we were invited to celebrate the Lunar New Year with friends. In Mongolian the holiday is called Tsagaan Sar, and I’ve heard it translated as both White Moon (more common) and White Month. Sar means both moon and month in Mongolian, so I guess both are correct?
Mongolians celebrate the holiday by visiting their elders, usually family members and close family friends. As such, we went to friends’ houses as well as friends’ parents’ and grandparents’ houses. If you are an elder, you host groups of visitors– some will have hundreds of visitors over the course of three or four days. It’s still a mystery to me how everyone seems to time their visit perfectly so that homes are don’t overflow with people.
Our friends guided us through the general structure of the visit. Food plays an important role. When you arrive, there is a traditional greeting, then you exchange and pass around snuff bottles, drink Mongolian milk tea, slice off a piece of meat from a big roast, snack on aruul (sort of a cheese curd, sometimes sugary, sometimes sour) and candies, eat appetizers, and finish off a giant plate of Mongolian dumplings called buuz. There’s usually plenty of vodka and toasting to wash everything down.
Every Tsagaan Sar table needs a pyramid made out of cookies topped with white foods like dairy products and white sugary candies. Families also set out a giant sheep loin. It is huge — it looks like the entire back of a sheep and I think people have to make special arrangements to get it cooked. During the visit guests eat some of the fatty tail because it’s white and one eats white foods while celebrating White Month.
A few of the families we visited served airag, fermented mare’s milk that is about as alcoholic as beer. Because Airag is available only in the summer, people who serve it for the holiday plan ahead, storing it in the freezer for months.