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Christmas in Mongolia

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Many people ask me what Christmas is like in Mongolia. For our family and other foreigners here, Christmas looks similar to U.S. celebrations. Soon after Thanksgiving, we decorate a Christmas tree, light Advent candles and prepare presents to give one another as we ponder God’s greatest gift to us: the birth of our Savior. In recent years, Mongolian churches have devoted a special service to remembering the Christmas story.

In every other area of Mongolia, the celebration of Christmas is absent. Mongolians celebrate the New Year, so New Year trees, in a variety of colors from pink to purple to red, silver or green, become available in December. Mongolians usually decorate these trees with small bills of Mongolian currency. December 31 brings parties, fireworks and a grand speech from the Mongolian president, televised at midnight.

But on December 25—Christmas Day—you will awaken to an average day in Mongolia. On our first Christmas here, I looked out our fourth floor apartment window to see children walking to school, men and women beginning their normal workdays and the stores opening as they would on any other day of the year. A man was standing outside by his horse, echoing the same phrase he does day after day: “Sue avi, sue avi.” The offer to buy fresh milk was before us as usual. Since I had grown up with memories of a traditional Christmas, it was an odd experience. I expected to see the streets quiet and peaceful, with only a few travelers going to and from their relatives’ homes. All the schools, businesses and stores would be closed on this sacred day.

As I reflect on the differences between Christmas in America and in Mongolia, I realize that not all Americans observe Christmas as a sacred day. In fact, many celebrate for very different reasons. I wonder what Christmas would look like if all the commercialism of Santa Claus and gift giving, so prevalent in American culture, were taken away. If indeed Christ were the only aspect of Christmas celebrated this season, would your community look more like mine? Would there be only a few devoted Christians in your neighborhood celebrating the true meaning of this holiday? Would streets that are usually lit with Christmas lights suddenly become dark? Would you awaken on Christmas Day to folks going to work and children headed to school?

If that is the case, then you are in the same place as me. Your heart must be burning to share the Truth with your neighbors as you see them lost in darkness without the true knowledge of the birth of a King who changed the world forever.

2011 Be Light Christmas Offereing

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