A child receiving their first haircut is always a proud and memorable occasion for parents, with us often capturing the moment on camera or video and sharing with our family and friends. Well, imagine that event in a different setting, with all of our family members and friends all present during the haircut, and even taking part? This is the case in Mongolia, where a child's first haircut is hugely symbolic, part of an important ritual and definitely a major celebration!
Daah Urgeeh is a special celebration, when the young child (often around the age of 2) receives a haircut which symbolises his/her transition from babyhood to childhood. This is a very important and hugely cherished ceremony to Mongolian families, especially those from the herding communities, who can sadly lose their young children due to lack of access to medical facilities. The date of the haircut is determined by the Lunar calendar, matching the child's birth year, with Buddhist lamas or monks traditionally advising the family when to plan their celebrations. It is important to note here, that some elements of the ritual can differ from region to region, however, this seems to be limited to who takes the first cut of the child's hair, and the extent and lavishness of celebrations.
After the fall of Communism in Mongolia in the 1990’s, historic traditions and rituals such as Tsaagan Sar (New Year) and Naadam (Games) have been embraced massively after years of suppression. When it comes to Daah Urgeeh celebrations, obviously, wealthier families celebrate this occasion more lavishly than ever, with grand banquet halls and hotels being hired to accommodate such parties. However, we all know that money means nothing when it comes to family, love and tradition, with the more ‘humble’ of people celebrating and marking this important occasion with just as much joy, effort and gusto!
The family member who cuts the first piece of hair can differ regionally, with some families following the tradition of finding a family member whose birth year matches the lunar year of the child, whereas in other cases, it is down to the oldest family member or simply the child's mother or father who takes the first cut. The rest of the elements all generally remain the same though, with visiting family and friends offering gifts and blessings, proceeding to take cuts of the child's hair with special scissors which are tied to a special ceremonial cloth called a Khadag.
This cloth is coloured blue to represent the sky, and is used in most cultural ceremonies. Each time a chunk of hair is cut with the scissors, the hair then gets knotted up into the opposite end of the cloth, and kept by family for future ceremonies. Also, before every cut of hair, the ‘cutter’ is offered a a drink of Haarum (milky tea) or Aireg (fermented mares milk), then the child, and then a dab of the milky drink is rubbed into the child's hair before cutting. Symbolically, the colour white is seen as something pure, good and full of blessings, and the milk of the animals are a crucial part of a Mongolians diet, especially the younger generations.
Each family member or friend takes a cut of the child's hair, and then gives the child a gift of a toy or money and a blessing, often saying “Be good!” (Always good advice!) The day is spent indulging on traditional foods and drinks, such as Aral (dried milk curds), Bortzig (fried dough) and mutton/goat dishes, with all guests welcome to join in from morning till night. Finally, once the child's hair has been cut by all those present, the head is then shaved all over, though in old Mongolian tradition, if an important family member was missing from the ceremony, a small horseshoe shape of hair would be left on the head until the family member can return to cut it. Essentially, this haircut represents many things to a Mongolian family, the important transition from babyhood to childhood, the celebration of survival, the importance of family and tradition, and the preparation for the next stage of life.
Please join us next week for another look into the interesting world of ceremonial haircuts. Next time, we will be delving into the rituals of the beautiful Polynesian Islands, where again, the 'first' haircut of a child offers not only the chance of a fresh fade but also represents the transition into manhood and celebrates ancient traditions.