So here we are already one month into 2016! And would you believe the New Year celebrations are heating up again? This time its for the Lunar New Year, which begins next Monday on the even of February 8th. The morning of the 9th, Mongolians will be watching the sun rise with their most important kindred, and getting their yearly "embrace" with the family patriarch, or matriarch, whichever is the oldest member of the family, or most influential. I say embrace with quotations because its only sort of a hug, with the older person sitting, the younger standing. They each sort of sniffs the cheeks of the other, which they refer to as a kiss, but it's really like an Eskimo kiss. Then the younger gives the older an offering of cash money.
When all the ceremony is done, they sit down to mutton dumplings with all the trimmings and libations then repeat at one house after another until the feast stretches through all their friends and family for about a week or more of mutton grease, horse milk and vodka.
We foreigners obviously have less of a palate for all of this, especially since we're in the throws of our annual budgeting process. Planning does seem to be a good activity, as does feasting for the freezing sub-zero temperatures we're getting out there. It's about -15 Fahrenheit every morning. But it warms up to about 10 degrees above by 4pm most days.
The worst part of all the feasting is that most folks go into debt putting out a spread they can't afford to impress or at least keep up appearances to people they hardly ever see. It's worse than the Christmas card wars, and at least as bad as the materialism of our winter holiday. Their gifts may not be as expensive as ours, but they might give out 1000 little t-shirts, day planners, souvenirs, toys to all their visitors they receive over the week. Most families prepare more than 3000 dumplings. If you figure each guest eats an average of 3 'bodes' or sheep meat dumplings, then how many visitors are they expecting!!?
So Happy New Year. Once for January 1 and another for the Lunar New 'Moon', which is synonymous with 'month' in Mongolian.
With the marking of this celebration the Mongolians will start saying it is spring. It won't matter if the thaw doesn't come for another month or two. By their lunar calendar and experience they figure the worst is over and start greeting each other: "are you having a nice spring?" Let us hope they are hopefully and positively correct on both counts!