July 11 – Naadam Festival and National Day in Mongolia

Posted on July 11, 2014

This is the festival of the Three Games of Men.

What are the three games, you may ask?

Horse racing
And archery
These three sports are practiced all over Mongolia during midsummer. In the capital, Ulaanbaatar, the largest Naadam Festival of all is held during Mongolia's National Day (today!) through the thirteenth. (Today Mongolia celebrates its 1921 declaration of independence from China.)

Notice that the holiday is called (in the Mongolian language) the sports of men. These days, however, women have started participating in the archery, and girls have started participating in the horse-racing games. However, females still do not participate in the Mongolian wrestling.

Aside from the sporting events, Naadam has opening ceremonies with a parade with dancers, horse riders, musicians, soldiers, monks, and athletes, plus of course food, music, crafts, and some pretty great people-watching. There are also tournaments of a popular game that uses sheep anklebones as game pieces.

Archery – In Mongolian archery, there isn't one target. Instead, there are hundreds of surs, short wooden tubes with little balls or ribbons inside, stacked to make a short wall. Teams of ten men and women, each with four arrows, try to hit 33 surs so that tubes are knocked out of the wall, as you see here. Knocking the ball or ribbon out of the tube earns more points.

Horse Racing – Instead of short races, Mongolian horse racing are long cross-country events. Horses must travel between 15 and 30 kilometers (9 to 18 miles), depending on the age of the horse. They also tend to be massive events. Instead of 20 horses racing against each other, there might be 1,000 horses in a race! And the jockeys are little boys and girls ages 5 to 13!

Wrestling – Either 512 or 1024 wrestlers compete in nine or ten untimed rounds. A wrestler loses if any part of his body (and it is men only, as I mentioned earlier), other than the feet and hands, touches the ground. Winners are called lions, and runner-ups are called elephants. A two-time winner is called a giant!

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