The final quarter of last year went very fast, I bet the speed was provoked by many activities and events that occurred around me and others that I was directly involved in; Mongolian language classes, community and pastoral engagements, catching up with the Pope’s visit in Asia – Thailand and Japan, amongst others. Well, before the January days slips from my hands let me pen down some few lines to share a bit of my first Christmas experience in this land.
Since I arrived in Mongolia, I was always curious to learn how the small Christian community here celebrate Christmas since the Christmas day itself isn’t a public holiday. In the whole month of December Christmas-like decorations could be seen all over the public place; streets, parks and houses but surprisingly enough the decorations and preparations were not meant for Jesus’s birth but for new year! (many Mongolians don’t celebrate Christmas; they celebrate New Year!). So, December 20th arrives and schools close down for Christmas holidays for two weeks. On Saturday 21st December we held an end year feast for the children at our centre in Chingeltei. It was pomp and colour! Beautiful decorations, music, poems, dances, some indoor games, food and gifts. Everyone present had their heart filled with joy. Although at this centre we don't do religious activities, I think the joy felt was a real Christmas joy since Jesus was born for all, believers and non-believers.
End year feast, Consolata Centre, Chingeltei - Ulaanbaatar
On Monday 23rd December we travelled to our mission at Arveieer to celebrate Christmas together with our fellow Consolata missionaries and the Christian community there. That very evening the workers of the mission had their end year dinner, so we joined them, and it was indeed a wonderful moment characterized by a climate of joy and fraternity. (end year worker’s gatherings, parties and dinners are common in Mongolia).
The following day, 24th in the evening the vigil mass was scheduled for 5 pm. This drew my attention. I had never heard of a vigil mass at such an early hour again! But I discovered that they had a reason. During winter the Sun sets early, at 5 pm darkness starts to crawl in, some people come from a distance walking and the temperatures were scaringly low (-25° Celsius!). Yes, in this part of the world the Son of God was born in mid of snow! The Holy Mass was well animated, many Christians and non-Christians attended, all ready to welcome the Messiah in their hearts. These moments threw me back to my home country provoking in me nostalgia of my childhood days when we could celebrate Christmas so intensely that we wished that the year could skip some months to arrive at another Christmas soonest! The Eucharistic celebration was followed by a moment of fraternal sharing – snacks, tea, juices etc and later on dinner. I sincerely felt at home although at thousands of Kilometres away from my blood family! Indeed, in Christ we are one family as Saint Paul writes in Romans 12, 5.
The Christmas day 25th December was a great day indeed. There were several celebrations together: Christmas celebration, the Sacrament of the Holy Matrimony, infant Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation. Seemingly the newly born Jesus had brought special graces to this community. The small parish church was filled to the brim and in mood of joy all went well. Afterwards a photo session with the newly-wedded followed and lastly the activities culminated in a grand luncheon where the whole community was invited. The newly wedded were all smiles. They’d set a good example to many youth in the community.
Christmas/wedding celebration in session
Right: Fr. Giorgio Marengo, the Parish priest Our Lady of Mercy Parish – Arveieer, conducting a wedding rite;
Left: The bride Bayraa and bridegroom Narmandak
On 26th December we travelled back to the capital city Ulaanbaatar and later on the missionaries from Arveieer followed us since the following days were days of evaluation and planning for the year 2020. This reminds us of Jesus’s invitation to evaluate and plan before executing a thing (Luke 14,28-). I think this is as well an invitation to all. We have received a special blessing of seeing a new year. Surely taking a moment to plan for it is worthwhile!
I am heartily grateful to the Lord for my first wonderful experience of Christmas amongst the Mongols. As we continue to count the blessings and favours received last year, let’s also remember to start this new year with enthusiasm, hope and faith. Let’s encourage each other in our journey of life. May the child Jesus bless us and may our mother Consolata accompany us in every step we’ll take in the year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Sr. Theodora, a Consolata Missionary Sister offering a thanksgiving prayer on top of a mountain at the end of last year.
This prayer posture is common amongst the Mongols during their traditional prayers. Pope Francis: Inculturation is a fundamental tool in the process of evangelization