Its name means ‘White Month’ and the holiday welcomes the spring while commemorating the passing of winter. Tsagaan Sar originally marked the end of summer, but once again it was Chinggis Khan who changed things, moving the event to the end of winter in 1216. The Mongolian lunar calendar uses five cycles of twelve years, each cycle being named after an element (earth, water, fire, iron and wind), and each year after one of twelve animals. The Lunar calendar doesn’t operate within the European twelve-month system, hence the Lunar New Year dates change every year. The festival is usually celebrated at the end of January or the beginning of February, and officially lasts three days.
The best place to celebrate Tsagaan Sar is the countryside, where a visitor can clearly see Mongolia’s time-honoured traditional customs and culture. During the holiday, people greet each other in a unique way: young people place their hands under the outstretched arms of older people and say Amar baina uu, a traditional new year greeting that means ‘how are you’.
It will seem like everyone visits everyone (from close relatives to acquaintances) for Tsagaan Sar. The three days honouring the White Month principally involve sitting around a ger stove and passing food and drink back and forth, always using the right hand to accept food or alcohol. Visitors are given gifts at almost every ger they visit. In Ulaanbaatar Tsagaan Sar is a shorter holiday, but with the same hospitality and visiting schedule, as well as eating and drinking behaviour.