Kirk and Esther Lynn Matthews have been investing in the Mongolian church for the past 21 years. They have witnessed the church’s formative years; fewer than 10 known believers existed in 1990 and now the Mongolian church comprises more than 40,000 Christ-followers. Mongolians largely recognize the New Year over Christmas, but the Christmas celebrations that do take place have all the artistic flavor you’d expect of these gifted performers.
What is the Christmas season like in the area where you live?
There will be Christmas trees but here people call them New Year Trees. Santa is called the Winter Father; his thick long robes can be red, green, yellow, blue, purple, white or other colors. Sending New Year cards between offices and businesses is big; some people even include gifts like chocolates or vodka. People tend to give expensive gifts!
People are busy preparing for New Year (January 1). There are a lot of gifts for children. Generally, bosses give gifts to employees’ children and schools give gifts to their students. You will see a lot of vodka on sale. A lot of parties are planned around Christmas but it is to say goodbye to the last year and welcome the new year, not to celebrate Christmas. Children in schools will have parties, where dancing is a “must”; very young children can waltz.
What happens on Christmas Day?
Every office and business is open on Christmas Day. People go to work as usual. A few international NGOs or embassies will be closed.
Very few churches have a special service on Christmas day. Christmas is celebrated in church the Sunday before Christmas.
What do the local people where you live think about Christmas? What do they associate Christmas with?
Except for Christians, most people associate Christmas with the New Year. Though some understand it as a religious holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church, that perception is not very deeply rooted. In the countryside, many people do not know about Christmas, but they will celebrate New Year.
How do local Christians celebrate Christmas?
Celebration usually happens in churches, similar to other parts of the world. Many Christmas songs are translated so it means we hear similar tunes. Churches do try to have an evangelistic meeting, some with food.
Does the local church do any special outreach during the Christmas season? If so, how are they received?
Local churches may join together and do a big event. Mongolians are artistic and many are great at performing arts, like singing western or traditional songs. They can also be great at playing musical instruments. Usually their outreaches are very lively and those who attend seem to like and enjoy them.
How do you and your family celebrate Christmas in Mongolia?
Over the last few years, we have been apart from each other! Some of us are in Mongolia, some in the States. A lot of the time, especially if we are on the field, we celebrate Christmas by sharing a meal with some close Mongolian friends. Most of the time we invite non-Christians so that we can share the nativity story with them. On another day, we have singles come and enjoy fellowship and a home-cooked meal to help ease their loneliness.
Are there things you miss about celebrating Christmas in your home country? If so, what are they?
We miss wonderful music in the church during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! Our church always has incredibly good music! We also miss turkey and family!
How can people be praying for you and the local believers during this holiday season? In our workplace we will have a Christmas celebration where our employees can invite their family members. We have games, songs, food and a simple message. We also will have a children’s program at the same time for their children. Pray that some of them who do not understand the meaning of Christmas will come to know the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Mongolian: Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey! Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе