The Year of the Blue Sheep–Mongolian History 201

​”Tsagaan Sar is a distinctive holdiay and carries tremendous meaning for Mongolian families.  While all you need to celebrate Tsagaan Sar is family, the presentation of a table overflowing with food, gifts for visitors, and symbolic mountains of buuz, and the fatty back and tail of a sheep have become the standard for a proper Tsagaan Sar presentation.  The average Mongolian family spends up to one million MNT (about $500 USD) each year on Tsagaan Sar.  The elderly living on pensions take out loans against their monthly social welfare benefits and families head to pawn shops to be able to afford to prepare a memorable holiday for their family.  It is a good omen for letting go of the negative experiences and feelings of the past.  One of the biggest traditions is getting to know one’s extended family members by respecting elders and visiting each other.  Younger children ad relatives visit elderly family members to show respect by offering a blue prayer scarf.  The greeting is called “zolgolt” where the elders kiss the two cheeks of the greeter while he or she places their elbow over the palms of the younger person.    After Zolgolt, the elder host family offers all kinds of food and refreshments, exchanges huurug (snuff bottles) and starts the conversation by discussing all the good that happened in the past year.  Two people of the same age greet by placing one elbow over and the other below the greeter’s.  Husbands and wives do not greet because they believe that couple’s body and mind are one.  Pregnant women also can’t greet with other pregnant women, as they believe the sex of the carrying babies might be changed.  Mongolians prepare two kinds of refreshments–brown (meat, buuz, bansh and vodka) and white (dairy products, biscuits, fermented milk).  The Ul boov is set in odd layers with three or five layers and symbolizes happiness and misery, starting from happiness and ending with happiness.  It is always decorated with other small biscuits on the base of the plate as well as dried airag, sugar cubes, and sweet dried cream on top. Upon departure from a visit, the elderly gives each guest TWO presents as no one is to leave empty handed.  Tsagaan Sar usually lasts three days, but the festival continues for up to two weeks.  Each year cycle symbolizes an animal from the Easter Zodiac and this coming year will be the year of the Blue Sheep.”

Hope reading this has enriched your Mongolian understanding–it certainly has helped us.  This information was in the English newspaper we received this week so we copied some of the information because it really descirbes what we’ve been doing as we’ve visited several homes (apartments and bashems) as guests for Tsargaan Sar.  We can say that it all happens just this way.  We were invited to two different celebrations on the first day of Tsargaan Sar.  The oldest members wore a “delth” which is the silk costume…so many beautiful ones!  They all seemed to wear a hat and had the blue scarf draped over their hands.  After the formal greeting (Zolgolt), the elderly get busy cooking buuz, salads, cucumbers and vegetables–lots of food to eat!  It is their place to serve younger visitors but they usually have the help of a daughter.  The whole time, you’re staring at a cooked sheep’s back that is mostly fat.  AND then, you have to eat it!!!  Just a small piece was enough and you take the big slab of fat off and hide it in your napkin!  We went to one celebration with the sister missionaries for translators and one cute little skinny sister LOVED meat…just loved it!  She keep eating more and more and then took just a slab of white fat–no meat attached–and just licked her fingers after consuming it!  She was so cute but we just cannot imagine eating meat/fat like that!!!  We went to the second place with the Elders and the snuff bottle was passed around and vodka was sitting on the table, too.  The food was great–wonderful potato salad, lettuce and corn salad–but it doesn’t take long to get full and tired of buuz!

We attended a celebration at our former translator, Miigaa’s house.  She added another celebration–the hair-cutting ceremony.  Her son turned four last week and he was finally old enough to get his hair cut–for boys it’s the even birthday years only.  It was half-way down his back and he’s had it braded and pinned up every time we saw him.  He just walked around the room and his dad carried scissors attached to a blue ribbon.  In the ribbon there was a pouch for cut hair and another pouch for money.  So, you cut off a small lock of hair, wish him a “blessing”, and then handed him money to put in the ribbon’s pouch.  This is bigger than a birthday celebration and he was quite a wealthy little guy by the time he finished circling around.  He looked quite rough with hair sticking out all  over but they shave it off and it’s supposed to grow back nice and thick because he is rid of that fine baby hair.  Miigaa is always so kind and an invitation always includes a ride to her apartment since she knows we cannot communicate with a taxi driver.  At the office, she still translates for us but we usually only help English-speaking young people.  She has been hired as the PEF Loan Specialist but she only works parttime now.  She works hard and we help her finalize loans before sending them on to Hong Kong.  We love our Miigaa!!!
We have experienced some warmer days lately–still cold enough to wear our heavy coats but warm enough to not worry about the wrapped scarf and mittens when going out.  However, today was one of the coldest we ever remember and the wind was brutal!  It was warmest at -21 degrees!  We like the thinking of Mongolians–winter is over after Tsargaan Sar!  Hope it is true!
Okay, so the last time this Francom family moved it was back in November of 1981–a mere 34 years ago!  Guess what?  We did it again but half-way around the world!  We left our ancient Russian cement apartment on the third floor and moved up the hill to a NEW apartment on the fourth floor!  We spent some time packing up and then 3-4 sets of young missionary-muscle-power did the rest!  With a reward of chips and salsa, they smiled all the way.  Our new place is big.  Our new place is modern.  Our new place has heat we can control.  Our new appliances are nice–too bad they don’t have dryers, dishwashers, or disposals but we won’t complain because it’s NEW!  Mongolians don’t understand good storage closets but they live simply and don’t have a need for extra places for “things”.  We will not complain, we’ll just get creative as we move along.  It has been a bit inconvenient to have the city shut down–stores and grocery stores–while they all celebrate Tsargaan Sar.  With time, we’ll get as organized as possible and we’re excited to have these new apartments waiting for those who take our places.  Oh, all the senior couples will be in the same building on floors 2, 3, 4, and 6–stacked right on top of each other…talk about great “borrowing neighbors” being just an elevator button away!

So, an update on our little grandson, Taysom–good news!  He is still in the hospital but he is starting to eat a little milk at one end and the “appropriate stuff” comes out the other end!  SUCCESS!!!  There are still a few digestive problems (reflux) and we’re all hoping that it’s just his body trying to decide what to do with this strange new sensation called eating.  Oh, it will be a happy day to know that he is home and all is well!  There are others with health needs we are praying for, too.

We think of home so often…maybe a million times a day!  We know what our family is doing because we are constantly in touch thanks to technology!  We love the emails we receive from our friends and acquaintances so keep surprising us!  We are grateful to serve, to share, and to get to know a new culture with different customs. How grateful we are for everything and for our testimonies of missionary work.  We know the Gospel needs to cover the Earth and we’re doing our best here and hope all of you are doing your best to live it and share it back home.
We love you all,
Elder & Sister Francom
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