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A 17 hours trip in a badly heated bus which windows are covered by frost, followed by an hour and a half in a taxi and another half an hour of a freezing motorbike ride. That is the only way to join my hosting family in the middle of the steppe. But I will spare you the details since a significant event happened a few days following my arrival: Tsagaan Sar, the Lunar New Year, celebrated by all people in Mongolia.

Barely recovered from a heavy fever that got me stuck in my bed, and not yet used to the cold and nocturnal trips for a pee – or more – in a yak biting cold, the family gets ready for this major celebration which proceedings are still unknown to me. Children try out their ceremony dress, parents check that vodka bottles and bags of candies are in sufficient quantities in the cupboard. Family then starts to build a pile of butter-stuffed biscuits in an uneven number of floors. It is of course forbidden to eat these before the end(!) of Tsagaan Sar, but hopefully permitted to nibble candies from the garniture; temptation is too big!

Once the work is over, it is covered by a piece of fabric and is only uncovered once a friend or a member of the family comes to visit, which approximately happens every day during Tsaagan Sar – even sometimes more than once a day. Table is then set up. On it lays the decorative pile of biscuits, a bowl full of candies and some buuz, a kind of steamed ravioli stuffed with sheep meat. While waiting for it to be ready, we start to drink vodka. One person is “responsible” of the bottle. He/She fills the only shooter available and pass it to everyone – except kids, of course! – from the eldest to the youngest. Before drinking it, tradition wants that everyone dips their ring finger in the liquid and spread a few droplets in the air, for the spirits, followed by one on their forehead.

Day after day, guests succeed each other, all dressed in their most magnifiscent Deel, the traditional Mongolian coat. “Amorenoooo!”[1], everyone greets and wishes a happy new year to each other. Bottles get emptied, stomachs get filled and joy is ubiquitous. Hosts offer a single gift to each guest which will do the same when they become hosts.

Tasgaan Sar litteraly means White Month. This is how, during almost a month, visits succeed each other at a fast pace. Constantly switching from hosts to guests, Tsaagan Sar shall expire once the first “Oh my God, I can’t eat anymore” can be heard from us. We can then finally target our appetite to the huge pile of butter biscuits. You guessed right, it is not wise to go to Mongolia during winter if you are on a diet…

  1. Personal sound transcription of the Mongolian “Happy new yeeear!”.  ↩

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