Happy New Year (of the Dog): How to Celebrate like a Buryat

Happy New Year (of the Dog): How to Celebrate like a Buryat

Around the shores of great Lake Baikal in south central Siberia, the indigenous Buryat people enjoy a New Year’s celebration that lasts an entire month. Called Sagaalgan, “White Month,” the holiday is a hybrid of shamanist and Buddhist traditions, and it begins just before the Lunar New Year. In 2018 this takes place on February 16 and ushers in the Year of the Dog, when loyalty, honesty, and friendship are highlighted.

Mush over frozen Lake Baikal on a dogsled pulled by Siberian Huskies, a courageous breed imported into Alaska from Russia during the Nome Gold Rush.

Sled dogs, still a preferred way to travel across Russia’s remote corners, are beloved throughout Siberia for their strength and loyalty
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Earliest SettlersThe Buryats have made their home around Baikal for hundreds of years. Close cousins of the Mongols, they pre-date Genghis Khan, and their homeland is believed to be the place of origin of the Mongol people. Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist lamas began making their way to the eastern shores of Lake Baikal in the 17th century.

The shamanist Sagaalgan holiday celebrating the coming of spring became linked with Buddhism, and came to represent the triumph of good over evil. In Buddhist tradition, the color white embodies the idea of purity and renewal. Hence, “White Month.”

Shaman at Olkhon Island, Siberia<br>Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Buryat shaman with a white offering at Olkhon Island, Siberia
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

White Month and Buddhist New YearDuring “White Month,” and especially on Buddhist New Year, festive white foods are eaten. These can include milk and cultured milk products such as yogurt, sour cream, sheep cheese and kurunga, a type of kefir, as well as posy — the savory Buryat meat dumpling — white buns, and the milk-based liquor called tarasun.

(click on photo to see larger version) 

Celebrating, Buryat-StyleDuring the month of celebrations, Buryats spend time visiting as many relatives as possible in their extended family, greeting each other formally by bowing and gripping each others’ elbows.

It’s customary to burn old and worn-out goods to represent release from the sins of the past year. In Siberian Buryatia, they believe that a peaceful and happy Sagaalgan celebration will be followed by a happy and successful year.

Sagaalganar! Happy New Year!

Buryat Village, Uan UdePhoto credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Traditional Buryat costumes and music near Ulan Ude are reminiscent of Mongolian traditions
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Travel to Siberia with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of experience planning travel to Siberia. Learn more about MIR tours that travel to Siberia, or have MIR hand-craft a custom private journey to Sagaalgan for you.

If you’re specifically interested in visiting the Buryat Republic, we recommend these small group tours:

Travel on your own dates, on our classic, independent itinerary:

Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway aboard a private train:

Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Siberia by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email today.

(Top photo: A Buryat greeting ceremony, near Lake Baikal. Photo credit: Michel Behar)

PUBLISHED: February 9, 2015

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