Gifts may not seem like a major focus of the Tsagaan Sar holiday (most people focus on the food and the greetings first, as we've done in our blog posts), but it's who is giving them and when they are given that is of note. As we mentioned in the previous post, Kara and I were given traditional Mongolian shirts to wear during the holiday. This came from Kara's co-worker (her family is shown in the picture above). We were at her house...she was not at ours. Typically, in America, if someone invites you over for a meal you offer to bring something to complement the meal, or bring a dessert, bottle of wine, or maybe a small gift to show your appreciation for having been invited. In Mongolia, during Tsagaan Sar, not only are you invited over to people's homes but you're given a gift at the conclusion of your visit.
Typically, it's something small...maybe a box of candy. But in some cases you receive a bit more (such as was the case with our new shirts). Kara and I received everything from cologne, to a small crystal candy dish, to white T-shirts with the word "MONGOLIA" printed on the front. Each home was something different, but always appeared to be thoughtful.
There's also another aspect of gift giving that is often overlooked. When you visit the home of an elderly person, along with all of the traditional greetings, sometimes people will present the elder of the house with a hadak (a piece of cloth folded in half long-wise). And most people will give them a 1000 or 5000 tugrik bill. It's a sign of respect, support, and an overall sense of giving back to those who have helped you through life.
And this is really what Tsagaan Sar boils down to. You have copious amounts of great food, invitations from friends and co-workers, wonderful traditions to witness, and it all happens for days on end. The holiday prompts you to say thank you to those around you that are meaningful parts of your life, and reminds you of those that care for you. Everyone wants you to feel like you are a part of their life. They want to feed you, chat with you, and when it's all over they want you to walk out of their home with a gift. That's what I call a wonderful holiday!