Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tsaagan Sar visits

Every family puts on a Tsaagan Sar spread 

Each layer of bread represents happiness or sorrow - the age of the oldest person determines the number of layers. There is always an odd number so happiness is always the final outcome.
A typical visit. We were invited to eight homes during Tsaagan Sar. Each family was prepared with food, hospitality and gifts to give us as we left.

Men, young and old, do it too
Greetings. We first engage in a traditional Tsaagan Sar greeting in our hats and deels with the older person’s arms supported by the younger person’s arms. The older person is seated for the greeting. 

Sister missionary greeting Puresuren

We exchange New Year’s greetings and buss each others' cheeks or approximate a kiss in mid-air.  

In deels, hats on, older person seated, younger person's arm under the older person's arms
A part of the greeting is to slip the elderly each a 5,000 toogrud bill (approximately worth $4.00). They accept it graciously without any fanfare or protest. If we, as visitors, are the oldest, no money is gifted. 

Battsey - one of our co-workers greeting Darlene
Food. The food is displayed and served in a traditional pattern with lots of meaning associated with presentation. Then we are seated by the food and offered “harem”, a fairly tasty drink of hot milk, salt and other flavorings. We are offered a snuff bottle to admire and smell and then return to the host in a traditional manner. 
Getting full yet?

We are offered several different kinds of salads (potato, carrot, cucumber and tomato, fruit) and other side dishes we can put on our saucers. Before we eat, we are to eat something white – white candy, a milk curd or white rice with raisins.  There are copious amounts of candies and sweets within easy reach. 

 Harothsuren's husband is Chinese so there Tsaagan Sar presentation has more of a Chinese influence

We make conversation and have a leisurely visit. The food is served in courses. Each visit is  1/2  to two hours in length. Once "boze" have been served or when new guests arrive, it is generally time to go. Guests are invited at certain times so that everyone doesn’t arrive at once.

The elderly have the seat of honor
Aireg is mare’s milk that has been fermented. Aireg is generally passed sometime while you are eating. You are to take a small sip (or a generous one) and pass it on to the next guest or back to the host who offers it to someone else.  It is bad manners to be squeamish about the food. We bravely taste everything that is offered. The amount of what you eat isn’t as important as accepting their hospitality.

If you are offered vodka – this doesn’t happen much in church member’s homes – you can dip your right ring finger into the vodka and flick it in three directions and then give the vodka back to the host without drinking any. Drinkers, of course, imbibe.

Grilled sheep tail - served traditionally - "boze" pinched in the shape of roses decorate the sheep
Meat dishes. Meat is carved from the sheep and served to the guests. It surprised us with how tasty and palatable the meat was. The meal ends with a serving of “boze” (meat and vegetable dumplings that have been steamed and are served hot.). There is a strong expectation to eat generously and appreciatively of this offering. After several Tsaagan Sar visits in the same day, this becomes more of an ordeal than a pleasure so you have to moderate your appetite from the beginning of the day.

Visiting Battsey's family
 Moderation in all things. Darlene was hungry during her first visit and enjoyed the food. She paid for it during the second and third visits of the day. 
Easy does it

We both became quick learners on what to eat and how much so we could demonstrate graciousness and admiration of the food without massive indigestion later. Several of the Elders or young missionaries learned the hard way that overeating has consequences.

Odgerel's family
Farewell gifts. When we leave, we are given gifts, something practical and generally expensive. Otherwise, it is box of expensive chocolates or candies. We both are given gifts that have been thoughtfully preselected for each one of us. The generous offerings of food and then gifts at the end of a visit far exceed anything brought to them. We, too, are expected to graciously accept the gifts without protest or fanfare.

Darlene and Gansukh
Enjoyable and special. Each of our visits was special. Tsaagan Sar is a time for building relationships and strengthening bonds. We learned and showed respect for Mongolian culture and were honored to be included in their circle of family and friends.

Flower (in blue) and friends
It was fun but in the end, it was also an ordeal. Eight visits spaced out over 3 days was about the right amount. One senior couple made six visits in one day and their memories are not as pleasant as ours. I am looking forward to next year but not any sooner. I am sure the host families feel the same way. 

Farmers in the deel

1 comment:

  1. What great pictures of the holiday! My first Tsaagan Sar was kind of hard with all the eating. I had never felt so full before. But the second one went better with knowing what to expect and how to pace yourself. You look great in your traditional clothing! Looks like you're getting lots of chances to use them. Keep up the great work! I love you two!