In the lead up to Christmas, Eternity is featuring four families and their experience of Christmas away from Australia. Today we meet the Benns who’ve been in rural Mongolia with Pioneers for 3 and a half years. They are based in a town of 20,000 people called Tsetserleg in central Mongolia.
Elizabeth and Murray Benn and their kids, Mongolia
Christmas is not celebrated in Mongolia, as it is officially a Buddhist nation. Christmas Day is just another day here – people go to work, children go to school, there are no Christmas decorations around the town and Christmas carols do not play in the shops.
But our family loves Christmas! We decorate our home (mostly with decorations brought from Australia) and buy gifts for each other. Our youngest two children who go to Mongolian school have the day off. We don’t do home school and we cook up a feast.
Usually our Mongolian church has a service or celebratory concert in the evening, which we also attend. Often, we have visitors, other missionaries from the city, come and stay with us for Christmas.
Despite the fact that it is a normal working day, we close the cafe and bakery part of our business (Fairfield Guesthouse Cafe & Bakery), to show both our staff and our town that Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, coming to earth to bring about our salvation is cause for a huge celebration. It also gives us something to talk about when people ask us why we are closed.
While we don’t miss the commercial hype of Christmas in Australia, we do miss the carols playing in the shops and the public recognition of Christmas Day being special. In Mongolia they celebrate the lunar New Year with a “New Year’s Tree” (looks suspiciously like our Christmas trees) and have lots of parties. There is no recognition of Christ.
We miss Christ, who has been taken out of all the festivities. We miss gathering with our families and friends, singing familiar Christmas carols at church (there are a few Mongolian ones, but not many), and we miss Australian food that we used to eat at Christmas–ham, pavlova, fresh prawns, strawberries and mangoes.
We have a lot of friends over (Mongolian and foreign), either staying with us from out of town, or just popping in to visit. We also try to Skype our families (electricity and internet pending) on the day. We just try to enjoy Christmas Day in Mongolia with whoever we are with.