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New Year Celebration in Buryatia – Sagaalgan, the White Month

In China and Buryatia New Year’s Day is associated with coming spring. In these two countries the time of nature’s awakening concurs with the coming of a new year. Still, there is some difference in dates (the first new moon in spring that appears in a space between the end of January and the middle of March), so the Buryat New Year’s Day is not always celebrated on the same date as the Chinese New Year’s Day. The Buryats have their own name for this holiday – Sagaalgan which stands for ‘White Month’. Three days before Sagaalgan churches hold public services and the day and night before Sagaalgan are celebrated with solemn ritual ceremonies called ‘khurals’ which last up to 6 a.m.

It is the custom to see New Year in with white foods and pure thoughts. The foodstuffs that fall under white food in Buryatia are milk and cultured milk foods, curds and sour cream, sheep cheese and kurunga. Kurunga is a type of kefir.

New Year’s Eve or ‘Butu’ is traditionally spent in the family circle in Buryatia. As Butu is over the Buryat New Year sets in.

The festivities move out of doors and people go out to visit their kith and kin. Throughout the whole month before the new moon appears Buryat people travel from house to house wishing their neighbours, friends and near and distant relations a happy New Year. The ties of blood are very strong among Buryat people; they hold their kinsfolk up to the tenth generation in high esteem. So it sometimes proves difficult to see all one’s relatives within the span of the White Month. Sagaalgan is a favourite holiday both for the Buryats and other nationalities that live in the republic as well as for tourists that come here to spend their winter holidays. You can be sure to enjoy a hearty welcome and a meal of white food and be treated like a guest of honour.

A common meal often includes ‘buuza’, a traditional Buryat dish. The word ‘buuza’ is often pronounced as ‘pozy’ today due to the influence of the Russian pronunciation. As a result, many restaurants serving Buryat national dishes both in and outside Buryatia are called ‘Poznaya’. Buuza is big meat dumplings with holes on top to let steam out while they are being cooked. Buuza is steamed for about 30 minutes and is extremely delicious. It is eaten solely with fingers by first nibbling at the lower part to sip the liquor inside.

Don’t forget about the traditional Buryat greeting. When a host who is older than you reaches out his folded arms to greet you, you should fold your arms in the same manner and place them above his. If a host is younger you should pass your arms under the host’s and try to take his elbows in your hands. Old people are held in high esteem in Buryatia and children often use a reverential term of address when speaking to their parents and older relatives.

The Buryats use a twelve-year calendar. Each year within a twelve-year cycle is attributed to a certain animal, for example, Horse, Mouse, etc. The animal changes its colour and element every time it comes back. The year of 2012 will be ruled by the Black Dragon that will emerge from water. Take it easy because the Black Dragon will do no harm to you – according to Buddhist beliefs, the Black Dragon brings luck and peace. This is the only mythical animal in the cycle and its coming is usually associated with the greatest expectations and dearest hopes.

In 2012 the Buryat Sagaalgan will be celebrated on February 22 and is going to be a solemn and spectacular sacramental event of seeing the White Month in.

You are cordially invited to spend your New Year holidays in the recreation centre Raduga near Baikal! Skiing, tobogganing, ice chuting and more winter pastimes on Lake Baikal.

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Raduga, recreation base in Maksimikha (Barguzin region)
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