Cultural Connections

Musings about my experiences, art, and life in Mongolia and beyond.

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Location: Ulaanbaatar, Tuv aimag, Mongolia

Native Chicagoan currently teaching in Mongolia.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Happy Merry Christmas"

Many people have been asking me if and how they celebrate Christmas in Mongolia. Let me say I have never been to so many parties in one week, in my life! I think I was invited to six, plus lunch at a friend’s home, but only made it to five.

As a few Mongolian friends said to me, Mongols are a little confused about Christmas and New Year’s. Traditionally, they did not celebrate either, just their traditional New Year’s in late February – “Tsagaan Sar”, which is really to celebrate the beginning of spring. When the Russians came along in the early part of the 20th century, they brought their celebrations. However, because the Communists did not celebrate religious holidays, they combined Christmas with New Year’s. So here, you have Christmas trees and Santa Claus, but no real celebration on December 25th. Still, I had friends over for dinner on Christmas Eve (making the traditional family kugel) and went to dinner at a Ukranian restaurant Christmas Day.

The party season seems to start the last week of December up until January 1st. As one friend put it, the parties are more “corporate”, sponsored by one’s workplace, companies, organizations and schools, not really family oriented. Our school held a Children’s Party in the Children’s Palace on December 28th. Some of the classes gave performances of traditional songs and dances mixed with nursery rhymes and Christmas songs. Then there were clowns, magicians, puppets, and a visit by Santa Claus who looked more like St. Nic or Father Christmas – dressed in a long, light blue, fur trimmed coat, a Mongolian hat and carrying a staff.

The other parties I attended were very interesting. One was for one of Mongolia’s largest family corporations, MCS. They own a construction business, telecommunications, beverage company, real estate, and a school to name a few. Held at the Grand Khan Irish Pub, it was like an American corporate party, complete with live entertainment. Next was a party for a non-profit – the Mongolian chapter of People to People International. This was a very formal Chinese-style dinner, held in a hotel, where the women wore evening gowns. There was some live entertainment, party games and a DJ. The last big party was for the Professors and senior graduating class of the School of Foreign Relations. Another formal dinner held at a restaurant. I was accidentally introduced by a senior professor (who already had a shot of vodka) as a professor from the University of Chicago….wishful thinking!

December 31st tends to be for family gatherings. New Year’s Eve, people pop their champagne bottles, there are fireworks throughout the city, and people gather in Sukhbaatar square – which was all televised, just like Times Square in the U.S.! And so ended the year-long celebration of the 800th Anniversary of Chingiss Khan’s formation of the Mongol State.


Anonymous jimf said...

This blog seems so lonely without comments, so here goes.

Got a kick out of the Grand Khan Irish Pub. When my brothers were in Hong Kong, they emailed from an internet cafe which was, oddly enough, an Irish Pub.

Friday, January 19, 2007 11:45:00 AM  

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