Tsagaan Sar on Lockdown

Small Lunar New Year in the Battulga Househould

Many of you know Battulga Tudevvanchig (or Tudevee), master logistician, self-proclaimed comedian and storyteller, and the co-founder of Big Mongolia. This year, much like the last, Mongolia was on lockdown during Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian lunar new year.

For those unfamiliar, Tsagaan Sar (translated as white month) occurs over several days in early spring. Families gather together, and visit each other’s households and enjoy a surplus of buuz (Mongolian mutton dumplings), cookies, milk tea, and Vodka. Many say that Tsagaan sar is a holiday for the elderly because while the younger members of the family move from home to home, the older family members get to sit back and relax as visitors come to them.

Tsagaan Sar kids
Children in the traditional clothing of Mongolia called a deel

Interview with Tudevee

While we could present a blog post about Tsagaan Sar and how it must be different this year on lockdown, we thought it would be more fun to interview Tudevee and hear his thoughts.

How would you say this Tsagaan sar is different than others?

Tudevee: A lot was different. But the main difference was using the internet for greeting relatives, usually through FB. For example, my mother is the eldest in our extended family. We are literally neighbors, but she was busy all day on her brand new smartphone. It was actually her first year using one but she is already a pro. She was so happy with the new technology, but now she seems fed up after only three hours of using it, haha. But she loves that she can communicate with her relatives that live far away, which she wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. We are very isolated out in our province of Zavkhan, Mongolia

What about some minor differences? Things you didn’t really expect?

Tudevee: Well… normally the streets are full this time of year with families–either walking or piled in cars. Everyone is wearing really fancy and expensive deels (a type of Mongolian traditional clothing), but this year people didn’t bother dressing up as much. Maybe only for the first or second day.

Oh! And,  after Tsagaam Sar, when you see someone on the street that you know, it is custom to come up to them and greet them to ask how their spring is. It is normal to engage in a conversation and shake bare hands (even in freezing weather as is tradition in Mongolia). However, this year, we only give quick greetings at a distance and perhaps touch elbows.

Eating at a table
A family gathering around the table to enjoy Tsagaan Sar delicacies

That’s a pretty drastic change from the normal Tsagaan Sar. How do you feel about these changes?

Tudevee: For me, I don’t really mind. I know that there will always be next year and that this is important for the safety of ourselves and especially our elderly.

Tsagaan Sar can be really exhausting. Did you find this year a little less exhausting than normal Tsagaan Sars?

Tudevee: YES! Hahaha. Normally we need to spend the first few days going out and greeting a lot of elderly families. It is a task with my 3 kids. However, this year I felt like I actually got to lay back and relax to enjoy the holiday.

In Tsagaan Sar, one greets another by placing arms on top of each other and giving a “sniff” kiss on the cheek

What about the children? How has this been for them?

Tudevee: They hated it. Normally, they love to visit friends and families, playing outside with each other in the snow. This year, there has been little or none of that. It is very difficult to explain this to our kids. I tell my eldest “Don’t worry, next year will be different.” But then he asks “That’s too far! Why not this year?!” haha

Like you being able to relax, has there been any other benefits to the lockdown Tsagaan Sar?

Tudevee: One interesting benefit is that we have all saved money. Normally, Tsagaan Sar is quite an opulent holiday with a lot of food, gifts, and other ways to spend money—almost so that one can feel pressured to spend money on the holiday. This year, I feel most Mongolians have actually saved a lot of money.

Tudevees Family
Holiday’s greetings from Tudevee’s family to yours

Do you think Tsagaan Sar will be permanently changed due to people experiencing a different style of it this year?

Tudevee: I’m not sure. I, personally, want to keep Tsagaan sar the way it was. My hope is that when Covid-19 is less of a problem, then we will revert to the traditional way so that we can keep this important part of our culture. My mother enjoys meeting relatives from afar using the internet, but I am not as big of a fan. I really want to meet someone, see them face to face, and really enjoy their company in person.

Do you think people will celebrate a huge Tsagaan Sar next year without Covid?

Tudevee: Definitely. People are now very anxious to see their relatives and family. Just like how people all around the world want to travel and live life as it was before, Mongolians are the same. Next year is probably going to be a huge Tsagaan Sar celebration. I am looking forward to it.

Thank you for your interview, Tudevee. While tours in the middle of winter of Mongolia are not often requested, it can be a magical and adventurous time to travel to Mongolia. If you are interested, please let us know by contacting us!

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