Mongolia Table of Contents
Traditional dance is still an important
part of Mongolian culture.
Courtesy The Asia Society
Although the Buddhist church was suppressed in the 1930s, much traditional custom and celebration survived in the 1980s, with either the encouragement or the acquiescence of the government and the party. The Mongolian new year festival-- Tsagaan Sar (the White Month)--is celebrated at the same time as the Chinese lunar new year, although contemporary Mongolians deny any Chinese origin or influence. In the 1960s, the government designated it as Cattle Breeders' Day and stopped celebrating it as an official holiday. In 1989, as part of the party's efforts to reaffirm traditional culture, Tsagaan Sar again became a public holiday. The festival retained its prerevolutionary character as an occasion when relatives come together to reaffirm their ties, and juniors honor their elders. The Mongolian government sponsored the summer celebrations of Naadam, the traditional Mongol sports of horse racing, wrestling, and archery. Naadam celebrations were held in every somon, in every aymag seat, and in the great stadium in Ulaanbaatar on National Day, July 11. The celebrations attracted large audiences and were one of the few occasions for the normally dispersed pastoralists to gather in large crowds, renew old acquaintances, and make new friends. Wrestlers, archers, and riders dressed in traditional costumes, and a large bowl of ayrag, fermented mare's milk, was poured over the head of the winning horse in a form of libation practiced on the steppes for more than 1,000 years. Each wrestler was accompanied by a herald or bard, who chanted verses extolling his hero in a centuries-old format. There was a hierarchy of contests, with the winners at one level going on to the next, so that the national Naadam in Ulaanbaatar brought the champions from all over the country. The winning wrestler was a national hero, and, while the contests had no obvious political content, they provided an opportunity for the political elite and the ordinary people, the herders and the urbanites, to reaffirm their common Mongolian identity and culture.
Data as of June 1989