Outside the wall

Dan and Sarala’s blog from Hohhot

Assorted holidays

05 Feb 2015

Greetings from the inter-new-year limbo! 2015 has begun, but the Year of the Horse hasn't yet given way to the Year of the Goat/Sheep. The Lunar New Year, which falls on February 19th this year, is still a bigger deal around here than January 1st. However, Christmas and New Year's weren't completely ignored. Here's a little recap of how we and those around us celebrated.

People sent around little greeting cards via the Wechat social network app. Here are three Mongolian-flavored ones that Sarala received:

They all say "Happy New Year" in Mongolian. In the rightmost card, the elegant drawing of a Christmas tree is actually formed out of calligraphy. The left-hand card depicts the Year of the Sheep even though it isn't Lunar New Year yet. The middle card combines Christmas, New Year, and the Year of the Sheep all in one card. “Mini mongol” just means “my Mongolia” or, by implication, “I love Mongolia”.

You may be wondering why there are all those pictures of sheep if the Chinese zodiac calls this the Year of the Goat. In fact it's not incorrect to say Year of the Sheep. In the standard Chinese language, goats and sheep are collectively referred to as “yáng” 羊 . If there's a need to distinguish, goats can be called “mountain yang” while sheep are “woolly yang”. The zodiac doesn't specify. In Mongolian, as in English, “goat” [jamaː] and “sheep” [xœnʲ] are completely distinct words. When discussing the zodiac, Mongols refer to it as Year of the Sheep.

The commercial side of Christmas was well represented in the form of sales, special offers, and of course decorations. (Thankfully, the season of blasting carols was brief). Below, a lingerie store and a dance club:

A uniquely Chinese Christmas tradition is to exchange gift-wrapped apples with friends and loved ones on Christmas Eve. We aren't sure exactly why, but suspect that it might be a pun. Christmas Eve is known as “píng'ān yè” (“peaceful night”) and apples are called “píng guǒ” ("pingfruit"). Here is a display of them in front of a fruit store:

A single fancied-up apple costs eight yuan, the same as two pounds of regular apples. We didn't buy any.

We spent Christmas Eve with a Mongolian couple Sarala has been friends with for several years. They don't celebrate Christmas normally, but they decided to invite us over anyway. They served beef stew with daikon and carrot. We contributed a mushroom bourguignon sauce and some pasta from the import store. We don't normally cook much Western food here because it's a hassle. In the course of the afternoon, Dan got a little tipsy after wagering a glass of beer on each game of Chinese Chess he played with our host. Next time they'd better try International Chess.

Back at home, we spruced things up with a makeshift Christmas tree (a fallen bough of what looks like Ponderosa Pine) and some paper snowflakes, and we made peppermint bark with the materials to hand.

We leave you with some pictures of our Christmas morning foray onto the ice rink. Can you guess which one of us hasn’t skated in 30 years?