Like most countries rich in culture and tradition, Mongolia is full of festivals that feature their unique ancestry and customs. Many of these festivals have been passed on as intangible heritage and hold symbolic importance to even modern Mongolians. If you’re thinking of traveling to this country landlocked between China and Russia sometime soon, you might want to time your trip to catch any of these five festivals which take place throughout the year. Without further ado, here are the five festivals you’ll want to catch:
1. Tsagaan Sar (first day of the lunar month, February 16, 2018, Year of the Dog)
Tsagaan Zar is the Mongolian lunar new year celebration. It is literally translated as White Moon, and is one of the most important celebrations in Mongolia. It starts from the first and ends on the third day of the lunar month. In modern culture, it’s a time to meet with family and old friends. When there have been misunderstandings in the past year because of conflict or debt, Tsagaan Sar is a time for apologies and bridging of relationships or repayment. The head of the family will usually hold a dinner, where they can exchange gifts and dress in their best traditional wear. The eldest will also receive greetings from the family members. They hold long silk cloths called a khadag to symbolize the ties that bind them. Traditional dishes like buuz, mutton, rice and curds, sheep’s tail and other dairy products are served. The preferred drink is the airag, or fermented sour milk from a mare.
Tsagaan Sar White Moon Festival Tour
Address: Chingeltei District - Khoroo 1, 2nd 40K, Apt 38, Door 1 Ulaanbaatar City, Mongolia
Website: Tsagaan Sar White Moon Festival Tour
2. Khovsgol Ice Festival (March 2 to 4, 2018)
From something brutal always comes something beautiful, at least in Mongolia, also known as the “Land of Blue Skies.” Mongolia has 250 days of sun. However, the remaining days are also really harsh winter months with a temperature that sometimes drops below minus 30 degrees celsius (-22 °F). These winters, where you feel the powerlessness of man against the elements, is celebrated at the Khovsgol Ice Festival. Ice activities such as tug-of-war matches, dog sledding, ice skating, ice wrestling, and horse-drawn sleigh races are held at Mongolia’s biggest lake, Lake Khuvsgol or the Blue Pearl of Mongolia. The ice is so thick at this time of the year that many people build bonfires on the frozen lake, and only leave a very small puddle behind. The work of ice sculpture artists is also displayed by the lakeside. Given the weather conditions and Khuvsgol’s distance from Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, this festival is not for the undetermined.
Khovsgol Ice Festival 3-Day Trip
Address: #1101, Metro Business Center, Baga toiruu, 6th khoroo, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Website: Khovsgol Ice Festival 3-Day Trip
3. Nauryz or Spring/New Life Festival (March 21 to 22, 2018)
Nauryz is a festival especially by the Kazakhs, the nomads of Western Mongolia, which marks the beginning of their new year, the first day of the spring equinox. Nauryz literally means new days, and it symbolizes goodness, happiness, friendship, and love. This celebration fosters a deeper sense of community for the Kazakhs as they visit each other’s houses. Some even go to houses of those who that they don’t personally know. There are festivities in town such as folk concerts, parades, and wrestling. They believe that the more festive the celebration is that year, the happier they will be for the rest of the year. The day before the festival, all containers in the house should be filled with milk, airag, grains, and spring water to symbolize the abundance of milk, harvest, and rain. Nauryz is a non-denomination holiday.
Nauryz Spring Festival Tour
Address: 12-06-18 Jasyl Bak Olgii City, Mongolia
Website: Nauryz Spring Festival Tour
4. Naadam Festival (July 11 to 13, 2018)
Naadam is a hodgepodge of so many things for the Mongolians. It is the ultimate symbol of their national independence. It is a celebration of their roots and their nomadic culture. It’s also the main event of the year that highlights both Mongolian arts and sports. To many, it can also be an excuse to party especially since the nomadic Mongolians have a tendency to throw the most epic ones, which also makes this the biggest festival of Mongolia. National Naadam is held in Ulaanbaatar, their capital, and is considered a national holiday. Smaller Naadam events follow in other regions in July and August. There are three competitions featured every year and they are danshig - wrestling, horse racing, and archery. As for the arts, singing, dancing, and theater performances are also highlights throughout the festival. The opening ceremonies are also interesting to watch since they involve a lot of music, athletes, mounted cavalry, and even monks.
3-Day Naadam Festival Group Tour
Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
5. Golden Eagle Festival (every 1st weekend of October, October 6 and 7, 2018)
The Golden Eagle Festival is one of the more traditional festivals in Mongolia. It features the eagle hunters of Western Mongolia who hunt with their berkut, or their golden eagles, as they did all those centuries ago. Every year, the hunters go to the Altai Mountains in the Bayan-Ulgii Province in order to display and test their speed and agility. This event is arranged by the Kazakhs, the nomads of Mongolia, in order to preserve this ancient hunting tradition. All the proceeds of this two-day event will go to the Berkut Association, an organization that helps protect the berkuts of Mongolia.
Golden Eagle Festival Tour
Address: Nomadic Expeditions, LLC. Building 76, Suite 28 1-40 000, Peace Avenue, Chingeltei District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Website: Golden Eagle Festival Tour
Celebrating positivity and possibilities
Festivals help us show gratitude for the year that has past, and for the year to come. For the Mongolians, upholding these traditions are important because it helps them remain rooted to their identity, which they fought very hard for in the last centuries. We must remember that Mongolia had a long dispute with China before the empire fell, and the Mongolians finally got their independence. And even after that, surrounding countries like Russia still continue to wield their influence. After which, of course, other external factors like the influx of modernity has come in. Festivals help all Mongolians remember the sanctity of their own people, and for many foreigners, it’s also a steadfast reminder that we were once a moving people who lived by the mercies of the land. The nomads of Mongolia teach us, as do their festivals, that everything is a journey. Everything moves and eventually, changes.