Happy Birthday, Chinggis Khaan


First, there is something to be noted about the man’s name. Many of us in the West know him as Genghis, while he is most assuredly Chinggis in his homeland. Why? Well, you have to look back at the chroniclers of his life to understand why. Rashid-al-Din wrote an important history collection called Chronicles, and in it, he mentions Chinggis. In the Persian language, however, there was no phonetic equivalent of the “ch” sound used in the Khaan’s title. As such, the closest approximation, the hard “g” sound, was implemented. Most of the West’s exposure to records of Chinggis come from Rashid-al-Din’s Chronicles. Voltaire even adapted a Chinese play by the name of The Orphan of Zhao to include Genghis Khan as a character, further proliferating the spelling to European audiences.

Thus, we find Genghis in the West, Chinggis in the East (or more approximate variations thereof).

Love him or hate him, he was a very important figure in world history, and an important figure in Mongolia.

After government elections in the summer, there came a nifty new ruling in Mongolia: November 14th was to be a national holiday celebrating Chinggis Khaan’s birthday. Now, it seems that day will change every year, but for 2012, it starts on the 14th.

As with most Mongolian news, I was unaware. Hearing about this intrigued me. We were discussing elections at our weekly conversation night, when I met an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. She was in a group with some of my students, and she greeted me quite enthusiastically. The topic of Chingiss’ birthday came up. It was all new to me, so I began to ask them about it.

“This will be the first year we celebrate, right?” I asked.

“Yes, first time.” Replied my student.

“What will you do for the holiday?”

He mimed playing computer games.

“Will there be a parade? A concert? Anything exciting?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Answered my friend, “Maybe in UB.”

Curious, I asked my English teachers what they did for the holiday. It seems they did what they do for just about every holiday: Visited family, took the day off, enjoyed good food, and so forth. I ended up spending the day with other volunteers in the area, and we did just about the same thing. It will be interesting to see if any new traditions spring forth from this new holiday, but for now, it’s a quiet day for rest and relaxation, as far as I can gather.

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