Days of the Week
Mongolians use both traditional Tibetan-based names and a more modern method for designating days of the week:
Tibetan Modern Day Davaa First Day Monday Myagmar Second Day Tuesday Lkhagva Third Day Wednesday Purev Fourth Day Thursday Baasan Fifth Day Friday Byamba Half Good Day Saturday Nyam (Whole) Good Day Sunday
The terms ‘Half Good Day’ and ‘(Whole) Good Day’ used to designate Saturday and Sunday no doubt reflect the five-and-a-half-day working week which has been in force for many years.
The Lunar Calendar
Mongolians, like Koreans, call months by their numerical place in the year, i.e. January is ‘First Month’, February ‘Second Month’, until December, ‘Twelfth Month’. The birth of Mongolian democracy and freedom in the early 1990s generated an upsurge of popular interest in the Mongols’ national heritage and in such traditions as the lunar calendar. Mongolia’s first democratic state constitution came into force ‘from the horse hour of the auspicious yellow horse day of the black tiger first spring month of the water monkey of the seventeenth 60-year cycle’, or 12 o’clock on 12 February 1992.
The animal years are the same as the ones in the Chinese zodiac: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, Pig. The Lunar New Year begins with the new moon in January or February and is celebrated in a festival called ‘White Month’ (tsagaan sar).
The twelve animal years are combined with five elements, each having its own colour. Each element and colour prevails for two years, the colour names having in the first year the usual forms, and in the second year, forms used to describe female animals.
Wood - Blue Fire - Red Earth - Yellow Iron - White Water - Black
This suggests that the years are alternately male and female, or perhaps the animals, although this is disputed. There are special words nouns in current use for many female animals, including uneh, ‘cow’, and guu, ‘mare’, but not e.g. for ‘ewe’ (em khon, ‘male sheep’).
The animals are usually referred to by the element in ‘male’ years and by the colour in ‘female’ years: 1996-97 is Fire Mouse, 1997-98 Red Cow, 1998-99 Earth Tiger, and so on (see below).
The animals and elements combined create a cycle of 60 years (12 x 5) before the combinations begin to repeat themselves. This cycle is called a djarang, ‘60’. The first djarang began in 1027, and the current one (XV) in 1987 (Year of the Hare).
Mongolian Year Name Date Begins (White Month) Fire Mouse February 19, 1996 Red Cow February 7, 1997 Earth Tiger January 28, 1998 * Yellow Hare February 16, 1999 Iron Dragon February 5, 2000 White Snake January 25, 2001 Water Horse February 13, 2002 Black Ewe February 2, 2003 Wood Monkey February 20, 2004 Blue Hen February 10, 2005 Fire Dog January 30, 2006 Red Sow February 17, 2007 Earth Rat February 7, 2008 Yellow Cow January 27, 2009 Iron Tiger February 15, 2010
* Guided by Mongolian astrologers, the Abbot of Gandan decided during 1997 to insert an intercalary month so that the first day of teh lunar new year was celebrated on February 27, 1998.
The traditional names for the months are also in use with the lunar calendar, and relate to the animal cycle (White Month marks the beginning of the first spring month):
Month Names Equivalent Months Tiger First Spring Hare Middle Spring Dragon Spring’s End Snake First Summer Horse Middle Summer Sheep Summer’s End Tiger First Spring Monkey First Autumn Chicken Middle Autumn Dog Autumn’s End Pig First Winter Mouse Middle Winter Ox Winter’s End
The names and colours of the twelve animals are given to the days of the lunar months as well. In the calendar for 1996 (i.e. lunar years Pig and Rat), the first twelve animal days from the first day of Rat (February 19) were as follows: Red Dog, Red Sow, Yellow Rat, Yellow Cow, White Tiger, White Hare, Black Dragon, Black Snake, Blue Horse, Blue Ewe, Red Monkey, Red Hen, the latter being March 1st.
However, for the lunar calendar to keep up with the solar calendar, a leap day has to be added every now and then, and the numbering of some days in the lunar calendar is repeated, e.g. 1st and 2nd March 1996 were both the twelfth day of the White Tiger month of first spring, although one day was called Red Pig and the other Yellow Dog. As a result, things get so complicated that you need a lunar calendar (khuanli) for the year in question!
Animal Hours of the Day
The animal names can also be given to the twelve two-hour ‘hours’ of the day. There is disagreement as to whether these ‘hours’ start ‘on the hour’ of the conventional clock or at forty minutes past:
Hour Names Equivalent Hours Mouse 23:00-01:00 (23:40-01:40) Ox 01:00-03:00 (01:40-03:40) Tiger 03:00-05:00 (03:40-05:40) Hare 05:00-07:00 (05:40-07:40) Dragon 07:00-09:00 (07:40-09:40) Snake 09:00-11:00 (09:40-11:40) Horse 11:00-13:00 (11:40-13:40) Sheep 13:00-15:00 (13:40-15:40) Monkey 15:00-17:00 (15:40-17:40) Chicken 17:00-19:00 (17:40-19:40) Dog 19:00-21:00 (19:40-21:40) Pig 21:00-23:00 (21:40-23:40)
Animal Compass Points
Going clockwise from north through east, south and west, the twelve animal signs indicate compass directions: i.e. north is Mouse, east is Hare, south is Horse and west is Hen.
Sanders & Bat-Ireedui’s Colloquial Mongolian – The Complete Course for Beginners, First Edition, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 154-155, 240-243.