There are some interesting parallels between how Mongolians celebrate the New Year and how most in the “West” celebrate Christmas.
There are trees all over the city. There are trees in each of my schools. All of them are decorated with ornaments, lights, and tinsel. I never really received a straightforward answer as to why there are New Year’s trees, but there they are.
There are also small parties and concerts put on by many schools, as well as the department of education. The parties are large, usually in restaurants, and have a plethora of food and an abundance of alcohol. You traditionally get served a salad, then a chicken dish, then a beef dish, and then dessert. Imagine my surprise when I was told that my school would not be having a New Year’s party. I told other volunteers, and they seemed perplexed; New Year’s parties are so customary it is just assumed they are happening. I asked one of my counterparts why we weren’t having a New Year’s party. Turns out some teachers didn’t want one because of the expensive costs of having one (50,000 tugruk must be paid to attend by each teacher out of their own wallets, or around $40). Despite the cancellation, I received a call last Friday afternoon around 1:30PM.
“Hello? Adam, you should go to New Year’s party. The general director wants you to go. It starts at 1, so you should hurry.”
Yes, I found out about it thirty minutes after it started and was still expected to go. This particular party was thrown by the Department of Education, however. My supervisor, the one who called, also cancelled my Friday class so I could be in attendance.
One interesting figure I saw at many parties and concerts was Grandfather Winter. A jolly fellow in a white deel, he is aided by his snow girls, who are a part of his court. They come out after he enteres, do a little dance, and take their seats next to the wizen old timer. He gives gifts, walks around with a shiny cane, and does pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from Santa Claus. During a concert for our teachers at my school, he gave me a small bag of goodies. Isn’t that dandy?
So, do Mongolians celebrate Christmas? No, not really. Christmas is just another day, but New Year’s? That’s their Christmas for that time of the season.