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Naadam festival and other festivals in Mongolia

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Naadam festival is Mongolia 's biggest festival and is held on 11 and 12 July. It is made up of the three manly sports — wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Naadam literally means "game" and thus the Naadam is often referred to as the National Holiday Naadam in order to distinguish it from local Naadams, which can have from one hundred to one thousand participants. The term Naadam will always refer to the National Holiday Naadam unless otherwise specified in this discussion.

Naadam festival
Naadam festival

What is Naadam festival?

Naadam 's origins date back to the seventeenth century, when at the completion of summer religious ceremonies the eriin gurwan naadam, or "three manly games," was held. In 1697 the first was held in honor of Jebtsundamba Khutukhtu. It has since developed into a major event in Mongolia.

The games originally had no fixed date, but in 1912, after Mongolia gained independence from the Qing Empire, the games were moved to the last summer lunar month (July – August).

The games also came to symbolize an honour not only for the Khutukhtu Jebtsundamba, but also for the state. The theme of the games changed once more after the Revolution of 1921. The Communists filtered out much of the religious content and ended up abandoning it all in 1923. However, Naadams related to religious celebration continued until the purge of religion in the 1930s by the government.

Origin of Naadam Festival

In 1922, Sukhebaatar began a Newnham, the army games played on July 11 to celebrate the anniversary of the victory of the revolt. This date also marked the separation of secular and religious calendars, as the revolution 's military games and anniversary were now linked to a Western calendar rather than the religious lunar calendar. By 1924, the 11th of July became an official national holiday, and the army games became the Naadam national holiday.

Sukhbaatar square
Sukhbaatar square

Before World War II, most of the games were held outside of Ulaanbaatar and other cities in the countryside. After the war the construction boom pushed the football, for the most part, into stadiums. At the ceremonies, and often during the games themselves, athletes still wore the traditional dress. The games were also used during the Communist period not only to commemorate the revolution but also to honor great leaders.