Festivals & Events
Numerous holidays and events exist in Mongolia. To travel in Mongolia during festival periods is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Between Tsagaan Sar, the family holiday, and Naadam, national day festivities, the Eagle festival in the west, discover these holidays which make Mongolia a cultural land.
THE GREAT NAADAM FESTIVAL
The biggest event of the year in Mongolia is the Great Naadam Festival, known as the ‘Eriin Gurvan Naadam’ after the three ‘manly sports’ of wrestling, archery and horse racing. The Great Naadam Festival ranked as the 6 th biggest festival in the world, was inscribed in 2010 of UNESCO as a Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It was celebrated for centuries as a test of courage and strength of nomadic people and warriors. The Naadam festival is held every year in July 11-13th at the Central stadium in Ulaanbaatar, in mean time every towns and villages through the country celebrate their own.
Mongolian wrestling is similar to wrestling found elsewhere, except there are no weight divisions, so the biggest wrestlers are often the best. Mongolian wrestling also has no time limit- the bout will continue with short breaks. It will end only when the first wrestler falls, or when anything other than the soles of the feet or open palms touch the ground.
Before each elimination bout, wrestlers limber up and honour the judges and their individual attendants (zasuul) with a short dance called a devekh, or 'eagle dance'. After the bout, the loser must perform the takhimaa ogokh, walking under the right arm of the winner, who then makes a lap of honour around the flag on a pedestal and does some more eagle dancing. The gesture signifies peace between the two wrestlers.
Wrestlers wear heavy boots called gutul- similar to the traditional boots worn by ordinary Mongolians. The tight pants are called shuudag, and the small vest across the shoulders is a zodog. Winners are bestowed glorious titles depending on how many rounds they win. These are nachin (falcon) - five rounds; zaan (elephant) -seven rounds; and arslan (lion) - given to the winner of the tournament. When an arslan, or lion, wins two years in a row he becomes avarga, or titan.
Like horse racing, the sport of archery originates from the warring era, starting from around the 11th century.
In this competition both men and women participate. It is played by teams of ten. Each archer is given four arrows; the team must hit 33 "surs". Men shoot their arrows from 75 meters away while women shoot theirs from 65 meters away. Traditionally the archers wear their national clothing Deel during the competition. All the archers wear leather bracers up to the elbow on their outstretched arm, so that the deel’s cuff does not interfere with shooting. Mongolian archery is unique for having not only one target, but dozens of surs. Each sur is a small woven or wooden cylinder. They are placed one on top another forming a wall 3-high, which is approximately 8 inches high by 5 feet wide. Knocking a sur out of the wall with an arrow counts as a hit, though knocking a sur out of the centre will bring you more points. When the archer hits the target the judge says uuhai which means "hooray". After each hit, an official repairs the damaged wall and makes it ready for the next attempt. The winners of the contest are granted the titles of "national marksman" and "national markswoman".
There are normally six categories of horse racing, depending on the age of horses: for example, a two-year-old horse, called a daaga, will race for 15km, while six and seven-year-old azrag and ikh nas horses race for up to 30km.
Jockeys - boys and girls aged between six and 11 years old - prepare for months for special races, particularly at Naadam. Horses are fed a special diet for weeks beforehand.
Before a race, the audience, all decked out in traditional finery, often sings traditional songs. The young riders sing a traditional anthem called a gingo before the race, and scream 'goog' at the horses during the race.)
The winner is declared tumnii ekh, or 'leader of ten thousand'. Riders and spectators rush to comb the sweat off a winning horse with a scraper traditionally made from a pelican's beak. The five winning horses are admired and talked about in reverence by the crowd, and traditional poems are read out, extolling the virtues of the riders and trainers. The five winning riders must drink some special airag, which is then often sprinkled on the riders' heads and on the horses' backsides.
MONGOLIAN LUNAR NEW YEAR-TSAGAAN SAR
All of Mongolian celebrate the Lunar New Year, which is called in Mongolia “Tsagaan Sar” or the “White Moon”. Every year Tsagaan Sar become in different days, depending on the Lunar calendar, but usually it’s in January or in February. Families start preparing for the holiday at least a month in advance. First of all there is a tradition to prepare plenty of gifts and food. Every Mongolian family makes hundreds of Buuz (steamed dumplings) and sews or buys new clothes. According to custom, the fattest sheep should be slaughtered and the rump and tail boiled and served on the table for the entire holiday as an honorable meal. Tsagaan Sar is symbol of wealth and prosperity in the family. The New Year’s Eve is called Bituun – the last dinner of the old year. Beginning at noon, the wife starts cleaning the GER. Everything must be spotless. Then the table, the centre place of celebrations is laid with several dishes – the boiled sheep’s rump, a dish with traditional bread biscuits, a dish of Beres (the vegetarian meal that, cooked rice with butter, sugar and raisin) and a dish with traditional milk products (dried curd, cheese and cream). All these dishes should be eaten that evening after the stars have come out.
THE WINTER FESTIVAL OF NOMADS
Every year, in the beginning of March, The Winter Celebration of Nomads, including Ice Festival, Eagle Festival and Camel Festivals are held in Mongolia.
The Ice festival annually held from 1-4 th of March in Khatgal village of Khuvsgul province. Organized yearly on frozen Lake Khuvsgul by National park rangers, local residents and business organizations, the Ice Festival has been held few years running. Khuvsgul Lake is located in North Mongolia under the direct influence of the cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in -25 degrees Celsius in winter. Annual low temperatures below -35C are not uncommon. The pure waters freeze completely over in the winter time to create clear ice with up to meters of visibility of ground rocks. A respite from the confinement of the winter months, the Ice Festival is a time to get outdoors and play games. The festival features a gathering of local residents and nomadic reindeer herders, and performances by shamans, traditional musicians, and sportsmen. Competitions include ice sumo, a horse-drawn sleigh race, ice skating races, tug-of-war between local teams, and a Russian Jeep race on the ice. Many traditional games are played on the sidelines, and this is an ideal venue for visitors to join in the fun and games with local people.
The Eagle Festival will be held on the 5 th of March at the Jargalant soum, 15 km from Ulaanbaatar.
The Eagle Festival showcases the art of hunting with eagles practised by the Kazakh people of Western Mongolia. There will be cultural exhibitions, demonstrations and handcrafts on display as well.
The festival will start with a flamboyant colourful parade before the main festivities start. Dressed in full regalia and mounted on groomed decorated horses, the eagle hunters compete for various awards including Best Eagle at Hunting Prey. Other ’manly’ sporting activities you’ll watch include horse racing, camel racing, archery and the highly entertaining Bushkashi - goat skin tug-o-war on horseback.
The Camel Festival will be held on the 6-7 th of March in Bulgan soum of South Gobi province.
Mongolia’s two-humped Bactrian camel is nicknamed by local people the Gobi Ship. It inhabits the Gobi desert in the southern part of Mongolia. Camels still carry a large portion of the freight in this road less country, as well as Ger of the nomadic people when they move from place to place. Because the camel is an inseparable part of life for nomadic Mongolians, it has become a tradition in Mongolia to organize a Camel Festival every year in honor of this beautiful animal. A local association of camel herders organizes this gathering of camels and their breeders each year to promote continued breeding of the Bactrian camel and to educate both Mongolians and foreigners on the importance of the camel in the Mongolian way of life. Camels and riders compete in a race, in camel polo tournaments, and even in a camel “beauty contest” where owners display the finest saddles and rigging for their camels.
GODEN EAGLE FESTIVAL
The Golden Eagle Festival will be held on 3-4 th of October in Bayan Ulgii province, in the far west of Mongolia. Each year Kazakh hunters from near and far attend the festival with their Golden Eagles, known as Berkut, to enter them into competitions testing speed, agility, and accuracy. Ceremonies, dance performances, a parade in the provincial capital’s city square, and a Kazakh play in honor of the hunters and their eagles. The Golden Eagle Festival is one of the many unique experiences you will have while touring Mongolia.
This annual Mongolian festival, which celebrates the Golden Eagle as well as the hunters’ traditional culture, is arranged by the local Kazakh community and members of the Berkut Association, a community-based conservation organization. Historically, nomadic Kazakhs have depended on Golden Eagles for hunting; both the Berkut Association and the Golden Eagle Festival were founded by Nomadic Expeditions CEO Jalsa Urubshurow in 1999 to preserve their proud tradition and protect the Golden Eagle, known in Mongolian as the berkut. This expedition into the rugged Altai Mountains also includes opportunities to ride on horseback alongside the hunters, as well as visits to a local mosque, town market, provincial museum, and archaeological site.
NOMAD’S DAY FESTIVAL
This exciting Nomadic festival of Mongolia is held annually on 17 and 18 September in the amazing nature reserve of Gun-Galuut. This fantastic cultural event is one of the biggest and most colorful festivals of Mongolian nomads and gives the best chance to experience the true Mongolian nomadic culture, traditions and customs within only 2 days. You will meet real nomads in their traditional costumes and competing with their incredible knowledge on nomadic traditions, witness young nomadic kids showing off their mental capacity, see the contest of traditionally dressed beautiful nomadic couples, see a thrilling folk concert of various nomadic groups and will be treated with mouth-watering steppe delicacies. This fabulous festival will allow you to take part in the mini version of magnificent Naadam festival so called the 2nd old Olympic Games featuring the unique traditional Mongolian sports: archery, horse racing and wrestling.