We have a few thoughts and observations as we approach our second Christmas in Mongolia.
We did not see much Christmas in Mongolia last year with only a few late efforts to decorate at perhaps a half dozen places or so. We saw Christmas decorations for sale at the one really nice shopping center in our neighborhood and perhaps a couple of tall Christmas trees in front of the larger stores.
Aside from that, there did not seem to be much. This year is different!
It appears that they are adopting the idea of Christmas fairly quickly here. And, yes, since this is a mostly non-Christian country, it is largely a commercial observance, thus far. But if Brigham Young, when told on one occasion by Mormon detractors that he and all the Mormons would go to heck(?), can respond that it was just fine because we would just
turn the devil out and make a heaven of it, then by golly we can take a commercial Christmas and make a proper observance of it!
Hey, it's better than Christmas being ignored! And the folks here need a bit more reason to be happy and do good things for each other, too!
So far, we have seen at least half a dozen of the big Christmas trees in front of commercial businesses and quite a lot of smaller trees inside stores. Some have quite an extensive display on the inside of their stories. One chain of medium sized grocery stores has decorated all of their stores. The painting of Santa in the window is of one of those stores.
And we have been wishing a 'Merry Christmas' to store clerks and many times they have actually smiled and attempted to return the greeting!
The increased Christmas presence (no pun intended!) has sort of been the talk of the mission.
One of our Nalaikh (i.e. the branch we are assigned to attend) missionaries recently told us of something he and some of his friends did for Christmas before he left on his mission. They decided they would make one of the common hot drinks here in Mongolia, go out on the street and give it to those who passed by, wishing them a Merry Christmas as they did so. Now remember, this is a non-Christian nation.
Well, they made preparations and 'set up shop', so to speak, and started handing out their hot drinks. The response they got was . . . interesting. As they tried to give people drinks, many said rather snippily something like, 'No, I don't want to buy a drink!' The youth would quickly explain that they weren't selling drinks, they were giving them away. Many could not understand. 'You want to GIVE me a drink? Why?' They would just tell them, 'Because it's Christmas!'
Some wanted to know what Church they were a part of. Most went away with a sudden smile on their face, warmed both from the drink and from the kindness that had been given them.
Maybe things like this are one of the biggest reasons Christmas is catching on here so fast!
Since Christmas is a time to remember and be grateful for things, we thought we'd mention a few that we are grateful for even though that may well prove to be a bit more difficult than it sounds. Words seem very inadequate, but we'll give it a try.
We are very deeply grateful for a loving family which has supported and taken care of us even though we are very far away. We have simply not really had to worry about 'things' back home because they have always jumped right in to make certain things like insurance, the cars, our home, taxes, etc. are all taken proper care of.
We are grateful for wonderful children and grandchildren who pray for us every day. We are grateful to be able to talk to them through the wonderful tool called the internet - and to be able to actually see them!
We are grateful for friends and neighbors who haven't forgotten us and who have also been watching things at the 'old homestead', too.
This list could get rather lengthy but we are grateful for at least one more thing. We are grateful for a child whose birthday we celebrate on the 25th of December. We are grateful for His life, His example, His trust, His guidance and His sacrifice. We are grateful that He has such wisdom that He could send us to a place where we not only can be useful in building His kingdom but to a place where we could do so much learning and growing ourselves, at the same time.
We are grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who watched His perfect Son, suffer and die for things we have done and will do. Parents tend to become upset when one of their children does something they should not have done (and likely should have known better in the first place), which then makes other members of the family struggle or suffer in some way. Perhaps we should remember that we are guilty of similar offenses but are loved anyway by a Heavenly Father and His Son - the one who had to pay such a heavy price for our mistakes.
And, as you can see from the accompanying pictures, we have gone a bit beyond last year ourselves as we have decorated our own apartment.
Part of that is due to our wonderful family who sent us a few Christmas gifts again this year. But this time they wrapped part of them and we have no idea what they are!
So we got a little tree and put them under the tree. Won't be the same as if we were back home, but Christmas manages to be special here, too -- in it's own way.
Merry Christmas, everyone!