It’s actually New Year’s that’s celebrated in Mongolia, but the lights, songs and “Father Frost” are all very similar to what’s done for Christmas elsewhere in Asia.
In overwhelmingly-Buddhist Japan, the decorations were already in full swing when we were there in late November: lots and lots of lights, plus Christmas pop music and gift-shopping promotions. Malaysia, which has a substantial Christian population, also makes big deal of Christmas with public spaces decorated, music everywhere and, again, shopping promotions.
Mongolia got a lot of its New Year’s decorations and the Father Frost/Santa analog character from Russia in the Soviet era. Secular for sure, but definitely skews Christmas. There’s a decorated tree in the main square (photo at right), and Father Frost comes to parties in blue (or red) and white robes with a long, white beard. And his scantily-clad female helpers.
People like a celebration at the end of the year, and adding the Christmas trappings jazzes up New Year’s, as well as extending the festive time. Most offices have an evening party that includes dinner, dancing, often gifts and hours of dressing up time. (People seem to leave work around 3:00 those days, and beauty parlors are packed.) My office joined a big party for civil society organizations, which was fun and more economical, as well as bringing all of us different causes together. The husband’s office had its own big party, plus Monita, the equivalent of Secret Santa.
It’s all a lot of fun, but Ulaanbaatar is no refuge from those wretched, overplayed songs that seem to be everywhere. Generally kind of excruciating, but I had a delightful moment walking with a young colleague last week as she was cheerfully singing, “…Santa Claus will coming to town!”