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Naadam in Mongolia

June 30, 2009

If busloads of tourists abound, then it’s probably summer in Mongolia. Along with wonderfully long days and superb weather, summertime in Mongolia also brings with it the Naadam celebration. Naadam, or the Three Games of Men, is a three-day national Mongolian holiday that takes place each 11th, 12th, and 13th of July. Originally intended for men, the games have gone coed now feature women in both horse races and archery, although the wrestling remains the sole domain of the men.

For those familiar with the festival it generally conjures thought of scantily-clad Mongolian men wrestling, children deftly navigating their steeds bareback across the steppe, and archers accurately aiming for targets well over 50 meters away.

About the Naadam Festival

The games of Naadam have probably taken place for centuries in various forms. In its current incarnation Naadam commemorates Mongolian independence declared in 1921. Naadam celebrations take place across Mongolia as well as in the Inner Mongolia province of China, with the biggest Naadam celebration happening in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. The festival in Ulaanbaatar begins with military marches, parades, and the carrying of the nine Banners of Chinggis Khan from the Government House to the Central Stadium, after which the wrestling tournament begins.

Naadam is a time for families to gather in traditional Naadam tents, eat lots of huushuur (fried meat-filled dough), drink lots of airag (fermented mare’s milk), and generally enjoy the brilliant Mongolian summer. Instead of attending the games many families head into the wilds of Mongolia to camp and enjoy the long days summer provides and the fresh air and gorgeous blue skies of the countryside.

July is perhaps the best time of the year to visit Mongolia. The weather is fantastic, the countryside is green, and the Mongolians are in a festive mood. Be prepared to leave with full stomachs from the huushuur and airag and sore backsides from hours on horseback.

Businesses During Naadam

Naadam is classified by the Mongolian Government as a national holiday; therefore a majority of Mongolian businesses are closed during these three days. As mandated in the Mongolian Labor Law employees are to be given these days off so they can celebrate with families and enjoy the summer. Of course many businesses continue to operate, especially supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and others in the service industry.

Such businesses may continue to operate normally during national holidays, especially during Naadam when the tourist season is at its peak. Employees may be asked to work these days but they must also be compensated accordingly. While normal overtime is compensated at 1 ½ times the employee’s normal salary, for national holidays employees are paid twice the amount of their salary.

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