Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sagaalgan, Festival of the White Moon

Raisa Sidenova, my Fulbrighter friend from Buryatia, Siberia invited us to celebrate Sagaalgan! And what fun we had!

Sagaalgan (from the Buryat "White Moon") is a holiday signifying the beginning of New Year and coming of spring. It is celebrated in February and provides a good opportunity to visit friends and to taste white dairy food for the whole month. Sagaalgan symbolizes purification, the beginning of the new life and experience of pure feelings and emotions.

In ancient times, the Buryats started the celebration with ritual visits. They visited the yurt of the oldest and the most honored man of the neighbourhood. Guests gave presents – a blue silk scarf, milk, various dishes, tea, shawls, candies. In return, hosts endowed them with sweats, frozen meat, tea, butter, silver coins. Kids were presented with a newborn lamb or calf with wishes of wealth and growth of head of cattle.

Raisa (Raya) cooked traditional Buryat food, although some of the desserts we brought were American! The Buryat festive menu includes only "white food" – sublimated milk skins, homemade cheese, sublimated curds, sour clotted milk, buns, dairy cookies, pozy (big meat dumplings), milk-based vodka "tarasun". Milk is a sacred drink for the Buryats, a symbol of fertility.

Sagaalganaar! Happy New Year!

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