“Mongolia has a lot of holidays!” my mom said when I told her we had last Monday (the 26th) off of school and work.
“Not really,” I said, then thought about it. We have had a lot of holidays this month, but it’s because we combined two cultures. We got to celebrate Chinggis Khan’s Birthday, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Independence Day.
Happy Birthday Chinggis! (November 8-9)
The 8th and 9th (Thursday and Friday) were holidays to honor Chinggis Khan’s birthday but schools and government offices were open the following Saturday (19th) to make up for the unexpected two day holiday. His Birthday is marked according to the lunar calendar so the date changes every year (kind of like Easter).
We had a low-key day on the 8th. Mindy came over for dinner and we had cake in honor of Chinggis.
Because of the last minute notice about the 9th being a holiday too (I think we all found out the week before) LeYanna’s private school decided to still have school on Friday. But Cory and I didn’t have school. So we had a fun day exploring, walking over 15,000 steps.
Our church is observing 40 days of fasting and praying before Christmas which began November 10. We were all given the opportunity to fast and pray on certain days leading up to Christmas. It’s not quite advent, because it’s longer and the focus is different, and it’s not really Lent, because Lent is the 40 days plus Sundays before Easter and gives you Sundays off from fasting, so I’m calling it Lentish PreChristmas. I have no idea if this is a thing here or just something our church uniquely decided to do. I’ll keep you posted.
–> If you want to join the Lentish PreChristmas fun, by fasting and praying for the Mongolian church between now and Christmas, pick a day and let me know; I’ll pass it on to the fasting coordinator. She’d be thrilled and I can give you our prayer prompts. <–
American Thanksgiving (November 22) and also Jen’s Birthday
American Thanksgiving is NOT observed by Mongolians as a whole, for good reason; its meaning is tied to American culture and history but, strangely, many of the churches do celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday the Sunday before Thanksgiving. (It’s tied to Canadian culture too but they celebrate it here in November, not October, so we’re associating it with USA but using the somewhat ambiguous term “American.”)
Cory was asked to share a little bit about what Thanksgiving is like in America, which somehow morphed into him preaching. It felt weird talking about an American Holiday at a Mongolian Church (and kind of goes against our desire NOT to impose Americanness with the Gospel) BUT they asked us to so we did….and then we went all in.
Obviously, gratitude for who the Lord is and what he’s done is a HUGE theme throughout Scripture, including thankfulness in the midst of difficult circumstances. So Cory challenged all of us to acknowledge the difficulties, then consider what we are thankful for in the midst of them.
And then we had interactive art time as we all drew turkey hands and wrote what we were thankful for on the fingers/feathers. Everyone had fun.
After a feast of Mongolian + American food we shared what we were thankful for. People reflected, Jesus was lifted high, we remembered what God has done, and affirmed our trust of him during uncertainty. It was a fun time, with LOTS of good food.
Then, on real Thanksgiving, we all skipped school. Mindy made an apple pie, LeYanna stayed in her PJs all day, we bought a (very expensive) Mongolian turkey and roasted it. We managed to pull together mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, and rolls. We were going to make gravy but the Turkey was too lean to provide enough juice (but the meat stayed moist so that was good).
Guys, it was DELICIOUS. And it turns out we can make everything from scratch because boxed stuffing is definitely not a thing here and Mongolian dinner rolls are…different. Yay for Pinterest!
We watched the 2017 Macy’s Day parade on YouTube because we’re 13 hours ahead so the 2018 parade didn’t actually start here until we were all safely tucked into bed after Thanksgiving was over.
Also, it was my (Jen’s) 38th birthday. I started the morning Skyping with my mom and opening the gifts she’d shipped me before we went into full-blown Thanksgiving prep. Mindy baked me a beautiful yellow cake with bright blue icing, which we ate as an appetizer while we were waiting for the Turkey to finish. I felt celebrated and thankful.
Independence Day (November 26)
From what we understand, this isn’t exactly independence from anyone, but it celebrates the first time Mongolia enacted its own constitution, shortly before being freed from Chinese oppression in the early part of the last century. Independence from USSR administration is not celebrated here. We’re guessing it has a lot to do with the fact that life was INCREDIBLY difficult for the first ten years after that “freedom” in the early 90’s and because the Mongolian communist party still exists and is sometimes voted into power. So, while the communist party now isn’t the same as the communist puppet party from USSR days, it’s not fully a thing of the past nor fully a thing Mongolians want to be rid of.
On To New Years!
So, now that the November Holidays are over, (some of the) Mongolians are putting up their New Years decorations, which look suspiciously like Christmas decorations, and are preparing for all the pre-New Years and New Years festivities in December.
We know the churches will celebrate Christmas and most schools will take a winter break around Christmas/New Years, but most businesses and government offices will work on Christmas Day. Because it is not a holiday. Neither will their be frenzied baking, shopping, and gift-giving leading up to Christmas. They’re not against Christmas, but they’re not tied into Western history like so much of the world is, so they’re as likely to celebrate Christmas as you are to celebrate Chinggis Khan’s Birthday.
We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.