07 · Feb · 2021
Photograph by: Selenge Dima
Ulaanbaatar, MONGOLIA — Due to recent developments with the COVID-19 epidemic in Mongolia, the President decided to summon a cabinet meeting to discuss if and how social gatherings and festivities should be limited. Decided on January 4th, officials decided to discourage citizens from celebrating Lunar New Year, better known as Tsagaan Sar.
While this decision has been met with generally positive feedback, the ones most at risk of being affected by COVID-19 are left with the reality of a lonely February, as Tsagaan Sar is a momentous occasion in Mongolian culture filled with food, family, and friends. While the New Year would normally be spent visiting relatives and spending quality time with family, 2021 marks the second year in a row where New Year’s festivities will face severe limitations. But thanks to modern technology, we can navigate this situation without risking anybody’s health. Our writers here at Breathe Mongolia—many of whom are Mongolians abroad or are also in Mongolia and unable to celebrate as normal—offer some tips on navigating this strange Tsagaan Sar with a few tips that might make these tough times a little easier for all.
1. Size down your Tsagaan Sar goods
From tubs of airag to lamb loins that take up half the table, Tsagaan Sar is known to be excessive—and it is for a purpose that dates back to the olden days. Nevertheless, it is our duty as citizens to limit as much contact as possible during these uncertain times. As a way to ensure both tradition and safety, you should rethink your Lunar New Year portions. How much buuz will you need? How much food can you deliver to your extended family with no contact? Do you really need those huge tubs of airag?
Remember to save and store all of your leftovers properly, as well. The last thing you want during a global pandemic is food poisoning or any type of stomach discomfort. If severe enough, you may have to make a trip to the hospital, which is the last place anybody wants to be. Store food items in a cold environment (anywhere below 1.7℃) and with limited exposure to air and moisture. Bags and containers are useful for this.
Due to social distancing recommendations, visiting family and sharing massive amounts of food are not recommended. While this may be difficult, ensuring everyone’s safety and well-being is even sweeter. Plus, it will likely mean less cooking and cleaning! Making a list of how much you’ll eat on Bituun—Tsagaan Sar Eve—and on the first two days of the New Year will help you size down economically and push the dreaded food coma problem into next year!
2. Greetings on the porch—Zolgolt
A terrible way to greet your friends, family, and loved ones during the pandemic is to do zolgolt the old-fashioned way. Why not switch it up a bit so we can all stay safe and happy? Modern solutions such as Zoom and Google Meet make it easier for us to stay connected with our loved ones—even if we’re continents away from each other. Both Zoom and Google Meet can have up to 100 participants in one video conference. So rather than traveling to see all of your extended family, everybody can see each other at once! There are also Facebook video calls, Instagram Live, Skype, Facetime, and other video-conferencing tools. To ensure a smooth e-Tsagaan Sar, read up on how to use Zoom, Google Meet, and other resources ahead of time, and think about how the older and younger generations may need help in this regard. Even without these modern video-conferencing tools, we can always call each other from our cell phones the old-fashioned way
3. Spread the Tsagaan Sar spirit safely
Staying in for Tsagaan Sar has its perks. It means you’ll have more time to explain the historical customs and traditions to your little ones! Behind all the modern-day shopping sprees and excessive cooking, you can share the festive spirit by researching and learning more about Mongolian heritage. A popular option would be to learn more about your family history, or even watching a documentary and discussing how certain rituals are done the Mongolian way. We recommend this resource from Horseback Mongolia in English and proper customs explained in vivid detail from News.mn in Mongolian. If you are in need of a guideline on family history research, the legal guidelines are available in Mongolian via legalinfo.mn. Maybe 2021 is the year where you can draft your family history book for everyone to enjoy next year.
4. Have a movie night with your family
Since movie theaters are a big no-no during this season, why not stay in and host a movie night for your family at home? Streaming services, such as Ori TV, stream a variety of Mongolian classics for the festive season, as well as newer shows on Mongol TV. If you’re more into Western classics, be sure to tune into Netflix or Hulu for your favorite blockbusters.
“Tungalag Tamir” is a beloved family classic. If you’re in the mood for something more light-hearted, “Zereg Nemehiin Umnu” is a great choice for the elderly and children. Other suggestions from the Breathe Mongolia community include “Serelt,” “Ardyn Elch,” and the famous “Mandukhai Setsen Khatan.” The English subtitles to these classics are, sadly, limited but a warm and wholesome movie night will surely lighten the mood.
5. Opt-out of long-distance travel
As of January 19th, intercity roads are closed between Ulaanbaatar and the capitals of other aimags. This means that unless you pass a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and, in some cases, get a permit, you cannot travel between cities. We advise you to not travel unless it is absolutely necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 and make quarantining and control measures easier for officials. In case of emergencies or other necessary travel means, we recommend you follow the COVID-19 preventive measures guidelines and resources provided by UNICEF Mongolia.
Our team at the Breathe Mongolia – Clean Air Coalition wishes each and every one of our readers prosperity and health in the coming year.
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