Setting the Scene
The weekend before Christmas Eve, we three volunteers (did ya get my Christmas pun… we three kings?) were invited over to a community counterpart’s home to celebrate Christmas over pizza, beer, and mulled wine. Her husband and four children were all there, and we had a photoshoot using the Christmas tree lights Valerie brought with us. This little nugget is the youngest child in the family and had a blast playing with the lights, posing for pictures as the most photogenic person there, and changing her shoes to show off in front of us. It was a great bonding event, and we all came out with memorable photographs.
In Mongolia, people celebrate Christmas, or rather, what they believe to be Christmas. In countries, such as the United States, where the religious affiliation of the Christmas holiday is well-known, the difference between Christmas and New Years, the two holidays that are closest together and the period between which all birthdays are forgotten, is clear. However, in Mongolia, this is not the case. People who have lived abroad, like our counterpart, know the difference and the corresponding traditions, i.e. the Christmas tree and decorations, yet it is common to hear most Mongolians translate Шинэ жил (pronounced shin jil) as “Christmas”, although the literal translation is “new year”. Holidays and other traditions common to Western countries are always interesting to observe in Mongolia; they make clear another interpretation of the holidays. For example, during Halloween, there are a plethora of Halloween costumes. However, Mongolians only dress up in scary costumes with face masks or face makeup. Simple costumes like “salt and pepper” or “Superman” are a foreign concept (literally). While Halloween has long since lost its religious affiliation in the US, in Mongolia it seems that people who have learned about Halloween not from foreigners but from research think that Halloween is still extremely religious. Cross cultural understanding is vital and goes both ways. I sometimes wonder about what I’ve been misinformed or simply have misunderstood regarding Mongolian culture over the last 7 months. Hopefully the next 20 months will give me a more realistic and well-rounded perspective. By the way, merry Christmas!