Happy Lunar New Year! How local traditions affect the business cycle
by Amber Barger, KF13 Mongolia
Happy Lunar New Year! Сар шинэдээ сайхан шинэлээрэй, as we say in Mongolian. Today, the countries and communities across the world who traditionally follow the lunar calendar are celebrating the first day of the New Year! Boy! – Microloan demands sure have been high lately. The need for loans center around traditional activities practiced for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Usually, the peak time for microloan requests and, in relation, the height of the business cycle, are related directly to the local lunar and seasonal calendars. In December and January, entrepreneurs are preparing for the January 1st, Russian-influenced New Year and the traditional Lunar New Year, usually in February. In April, the weather turns warmer and the winter construction ban is lifted – businesses revive and start up again. In August, families prepare for the beginning of the school year and the auspicious wedding season, according to the lunar calendar.
Let’s look, for example, at the business activities that go along with the traditions related to the Lunar New Year.
- Having a clean and comfortable home:
Traditionally, Mongolians believe that having a clean and comfortable home on the first day of the Lunar New Year symbolizes good luck for the upcoming year. Many Mongolians extensively clean their homes and invest in homeware updates, such as couches, electronics like televisions and computers, and rugs. The implication of this is that small businesses stock inventory in these homeware products, and some people take out micro consumption loans in order to afford these housing updates.
- Traveling to the eldest person of the family’s home:
In Mongolia, the Lunar New Year is all about respecting one’s elders. This influences many traditions – from the order of the greetings, to whose house you visit first during the holiday, to the travel patterns throughout the country. According to custom, the younger members of the family must visit the eldest person of the family, usually the grandfather, at the beginning of the Lunar New Year. The national holiday allows the workforce two days of vacation, and students have up to a month off from school.
This leads to a massive amount of travel throughout the country – the city dwellers travel to the countryside and the countryside dwellers travel across the country to visit their elders. The transportation industry booms – anyone who owns a car or van can charge to transport people across the Mongolia. Taxi, van, and bus drivers upgrade their vehicles around this time, and some take out loans to do so.
- Hosting and visiting family and friends:
The Lunar New Year is all about spending time with family and friends! And, of course, one must look good while doing it! The demand and price of traditional clothing drastically increases the month before the Lunar New Year – Hats, dresses belts, boots. As a host, each family must provide each guest with a small gift for visiting their home. This can range from small things like chocolate bars to larger items like cup and saucer sets. As a guest, depending on the traditions in your part of the country, one needs to give a gift of crisp money bills to the host.
When hosting a Lunar New Year gathering, one needs to serve traditional food related to the holiday. It’s expected that бууз, steamed meat dumplings, will be served, along with milk tea, salad, candy. Traditionally, each guest must be offered three shots of vodka. Imagine visiting eight houses in one day with all of that food and vodka! The table needs to be decorated with a steamed sheep rear and a tower of white dairy products and traditional bread.
It’s said that with all of the housing renovations, gift-giving, and cooking that goes along with the Lunar New Year, some families will spend the equivalent of a full year’s salary in just two weeks!
The Mongolian Lunar New Year is one of my favorite holidays! This year, I’ll be visiting several of my friends in Ulaanbaatar, and then attending the Lunar New Year work celebrations at the Kiva field partners’ offices on Monday. Сар шинэдээ сайхан шинэлээрэй!
Amber Barger is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow in Mongolia. She has lived for the past two years in rural Mongolia as a community economic development Peace Corps Volunteer. Along with her Kiva Fellowship, she is extending a third year with the Peace Corps as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.