Midsummer

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Here in Washington, Seattleites make a big deal out of the summer solstice. Just last weekend, I met up with a friend in Ballard to catch a bite to eat and browse through the local shops, and we inadvertently ran across the solstice parade route. The whole day was very Seattle, and very unintentionally so. Coming up this week is the Fourth of July, which of course is a big holiday nationwide.

You know who else has big holidays during the summer? Mongolia. (How’s that for a segue?) As I’m sure everyone would be both bored and annoyed by yet another update on all the little and big things that we are trying to accomplish right now, let’s talk about Naadam instead.

Naadam is a Mongolian festival/holiday (how does one differentiate between the two?) that is quite the big deal. From what I understand, Naadam is on par with Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US, maybe both holidays rolled into one. (Tsagaan Sar is another major Mongolian holiday that coincides with the lunar new year.) Naadam celebrates the “three manly sports” of Mongolia: wrestling, horse racing, and archery.

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I am no expert in any form of wrestling, but I assume that Mongolian wrestling has its own unique form. I know that there is a very specific uniform for wrestlers that includes an open vest to prove that only men are participating, not women.

In a country where horses outnumber the people thirteen to one, horse races seem only logical. Also, horses are very important in Mongolia and are given as honoring gifts and prized for what they offer. Mongolian nomads milk their horses, and fermented mare’s milk–airag–is a common enough beverage–or so I’ve heard. Beyond historic precedence, I do not know if there is a specific reason to include archery, but I like that it’s one of the three most valued sports in the country.

If I understand Naadam correctly, it consists of similar festivals held all across Mongolia. In the countryside, a naadam is a way for nomadic families to come together and enjoy time in an extended community. In the cities, the naadam size reflects the size of the local population. That is, attending a naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar would be a significantly bigger ordeal than one in a rural area.

Sound interesting? I found a video on BBC that features a Mongolian naadam. You should check it out!

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