Monday, January 19, 2009

Tsagaan sar and others

Tsagaan sar is coming. While New Year celebrations are considered to be for the younger generation, Tsagaan sar is for the elders. So to speak. Not that the youngsters can escape the rituals and customs of Tsagaan sar. As for me, having celebrated Tsagaan sar only once during the past decade, I am kinda looking forward to it. Must be age catching up with me....and the excitement of meeting cousins I haven't seen for a long time and new members of the family. This year's Tsagaan sar is mostly on the 25th of February (that would be the first day of the Mongolian new year... I think). Every year the same old debate takes place amongst the astrologers and the lamas as to when Tsagaan Sar should be celebrated. Some people are celebrating Tsagaan Sar tomorrow, i.e. 26 January. I've always found it confusing how Tsagaan Sar almost always falls on a different date from the lunar new year celebrated in China, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries, until I read this article on Wikipedia. So if we are following the Tibetan lunisolar(!) calendar, then February 25th is indeed the correct date for Tsagaan Sar (again according to Wikipedia, but I wouldn't cite this in your academic paper).

There are a couple of interesting articles on Tsagaan Sar online, including e-mongol which has this to say:
 The Great Chingis [sic] Khaan played an important role to make Tsagaan Sar a State ceremony. In 1207, at the Mouse hour of the first day of the Year of the Red Rabbit, the Great Khaan, wearing all his new clothes, prayed to Blue Sky and Vast Land, paid respect to the elderly and visited his Oulen mother. In 1216, the year of the Red Mouse, the Khaan issued a decree to award people on the day of Tsagaan Sar with gold and clothing materials taken from the State reserve. The Khaan also decreed to award a special title to anyone who is over 120 years old and to release prisoners on the day of Tsagaan Sar except those convicted of the 5-cruelty case.
So now you know. What I found extremely interesting, apart from the mouse hour and the year of the red rabbit which are fascinating as they are, is the implied existence of 120 year-olds in the 13th century, considering the negligible healthcare system, non-existent antibiotics and vaccines, constant warfare and all the other environmental factors stacked against a long life. And what special title would a 120 year-old want? I suppose it would've been extremely difficult to keep track of the years, if they counted their age in rabbits and mice. If you looked the part, who could possibly prove that you were not 120 years old.

But I digress. The same article has a list of don'ts for foreigners during Tsagaan Sar, which may come in handy. I guess the most important of the lot is if you visit a Mongolian family on Tsagaan Sar and greet the elders the traditional Mongolian way, they will kiss you on the cheeks, but you should not reciprocate. Here's another article on about Tsagaan Sar.