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Leisure & Holidays

     Competitions at the Nadaam Festival help preserve Mongolian culture. These traditional tournaments feature warrior-oriented activities such as wrestling, archery, and horse racing which are the most popular sports. Competitors are usually male, but some women take part in the games and accompanying ceremonies. The annual wrestling championships are enthusiastically followed throughout the country. Boxing, soccer, volleyball, basketball, and table tennis are also enjoyed.

Leisure activities include visiting family and friends, watching television, going to the cinema, and, especially in summer, making outings to the countryside. Saturday is a favorite day for picnics, and some people own small summer wooden houses in the hills around the capital. Traditional songs are often sung at weddings or family gatherings, modern folk song concerts and comedy shows in Ulaanbaatar draw large audiences, and storytelling is a popular tradition. Traditional dance and music performances, classic and national operas, ballet and circus are main evening entertainments offered to tourists.

More modern entertainment such as rock concerts are increasingly popular among young people.

Public holidays include:
New Year’s Day -1 January;
Tsagaan Sar (White Month) – (9-11 February 2005) the lunar New Year, celebrated on the first two days of the first lunar month, usually comes in February, marked by family gatherings. It is preceded by days of house cleaning
Women’s Day - 8 March;
Children’s Day – 1 June
Naadam - 11–13 July, when a huge festival featuring sports and music attracts Mongolians from all the country;
Independence Day - 26 November.

Socializing

     A handshake is the most common greeting in urban areas of Mongolia. A standard greeting in formal situations or among strangers is Ta sain baina uu? (“How do you do?”). Acquaintances prefer more casual greetings such as Sain uu! (“Hello”) or Sonin yutai ve? (“What’s new?”). In rural areas, people exchange their pipes or snuff as a form of greeting and ask such questions as how fat the livestock are or how favorable the particular season is.

Mongolian names consist of a patronymic and a given name. All people are called by their given names. The patronymic is rarely used in ordinary speech and never alone. Its purpose is to distinguish between people who might have the same given name. It is the possessive form of the father’s name. For example, a person named Demchigiin Batbayar is called Batbayar, and her father is Demchig. A title often follows the given name in addressing a person. It is used to recognize a person’s rank, seniority (in age or status), or profession. For example, a respected teacher might be addressed as Narangerel bagsh (teacher), or an honored elder as Dorj guai (“Mr.”). Guai is also used for women. Sometimes a person who is close to an older person will call that person father or mother, or uncle or aunt, even though they are not related.

There is a long tradition of hospitality, and impromptu visits are common. Guests are usually greeted by the host and family members at the door in modern apartment buildings, or, in rural areas, outside the ger. When entering a ger, people customarily move around to the left. During formal visits, the host sits opposite the entrance; women sit to the left, men to the right. Tea with milk is served to guests. Airag might be served instead of tea during summer, and vodka may be served at any time. Guests often bring the hosts a small gift. On very important occasions, a khadag (a blue silk band) and a silver bowl filled with airag are presented to an elder or a person of higher social rank as a sign of respect and good wishes.

Religion

     Traditionally, Mongols practiced a combination of Tibetan Buddhism (also called Vajrayana Buddhism) and shamanism. Tibetan Buddhism shares the common Buddhist goals of individual release from suffering and reincarnation. Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who lives in India, is the religion’s spiritual leader and is highly respected in Mongolia.He visited Mongolia several times, and most recently in 1995 in the company of Richard Gere.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Mongolia had hundreds of monasteries, and about half of all men were monks. In the 1930s, the Communist government launched a campaign against Lamaism, Mongolia’s chief religion, and thousands of monks were arrested and executed. By 1945, after the Communist government's religious purge, all but one monastery (Gandan Tegchilin in Ulaanbaatar) had been closed, although shamanistic practices continued. Worship was forbidden until 1990, when democracy was restored and a religious revival ensued.

Since, when freedom of religion was restored, then Buddhism has rapidly re-established itself, resulting in the construction of dozens of new monasteries and the restoration of temples destroyed in the 1930s. The Buddhist art school in Gandan Monastery is thriving and high lamas from Tibet, Nepal and India has made trips to Mongolia. Many young people are receiving an education through these traditional centers of learning, and boys are increasingly applying to become monks. The new freedom of religion also extends to the Kazak Muslims. Meanwhile many Christian missionaries are seeking new souls in the country and some even have opened their churches.

Like many other Buddhist countries, religion dominates Mongolian arts, including traditional dance. The most common dance, the tsam, is a mask dance. Performed to exorcise evil spirits, tsam dances are ritualized and theatrical, and are influenced by unique Mongolian nomadic folklore, as well as shamanism.

Diet & Eating

     Although Mongolians in urban areas are adapted to a more westernized diet, the general Mongolian diet consists largely of dairy products, meat, millet, barley, and wheat. Rice is common in urban areas.

Meat is the basis of the diet, primarily beef and mutton, and usually eaten at least once a day. The local cooking is quite distinctive. Traditional meals generally consist of boiled mutton with lots of fat and flour with either rice or dairy products. One local specialty is Boodog; this is the whole carcass of a goat roasted from the inside – the entrails and bones are taken out through the throat, the carcass is filled with burning hot stones and the neck tied tightly, and thus the goat is cooked from the inside to the outside.

The variety and availability of vegetables and fruit are limited by the climate, but potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, and garlic are generally available. Wild berries and, in a few areas, a small number of apples grow in Mongolia. In summer, people eat milk products (dried milk curds, butter, airag - fermented mare’s milk - and yoghurt) instead of large quantities of meat.

Mongolian tea (suutei tsai), meaning salty tea with milk, is very popular. Common meals include guriltai shul (mutton and noodle soup), boiled mutton, and buuz (steamed dumplings stuffed with diced meat, onion, cabbage, garlic, salt, and pepper). A boiled version of the dumpling is called bansh. The fried one is khuushuur.

The main meal of the day throughout the country is in the evening, when the whole family sits together. Western-style utensils are common for all meals, but some people use chopsticks. Most urban dwellers use a knife to cut meat, and spoons to eat rice or vegetables. In urban apartments, people have dining tables and chairs, while in rural areas, people sit on the floor or on small stools to eat from a low table. In the evening, soup is served in individual bowls. If the main dish is boiled meat, it is eaten from a communal bowl.

The Mongolian Language

   

The Mongolian language is a member of the Ural-Altaic family of language which includes . Most people speak the Khalkha Mongolian dialect; it is also used in schools and for official business. Mongolia’s traditional script was replaced under communism with a Cyrillic alphabet similar to the Russian one in 1946. In 1991 parliament voted to revive the old script. It will eventually be used in all official business and is slowly being reintroduced in schools.

The Mongol alphabet has 26 characters, which are written vertically but in different ways according to their position in a word. The Kazakhs use their own language (which uses a Cyrillic alphabet) in schools and local government. Mongols educated under the Communists speak Russian, and many Russian words have been incorporated into the Mongolian language. The use of English is spreading rapidly, and many official signs are written only in the traditional script and English.