Burma, The Country Of Festivals

Nancy B. Alston

Burma (since 1998 also called Myanmar) is known and even famous for many things. Strangely enough, there is something Burma and the Burmese people are generally not known for, and that is festivals and celebrating, although Burma could in fact be justifiably called the country of festivals.

The Burmese festival calendar is packed with occasions both regional and nation-wide to celebrate. I find it hard to say where this has its origins; in events that are worthy of being celebrated or simply the wish of Burmese people to celebrate and, subsequently, to find suitable occasions that give sufficient reason to do this. Whichever came first the fact remains that whenever the moon is full it is festival time in Burma. Both religious and cultural festivals take place year-round and all over the country. And most festivals are drawn-out and enjoyable affairs here.

The dominant spirit of the respective festival varies according to the occasion’s nature from somewhat frivolous during ‘Thingyan’ or ‘Water Festival’ the ‘Burmese New Year’ that is celebrated in the Burmese month of ‘Tagu’ (March/April) to more solemn on full-moons such as the ‘Full-moon of Kason’ in the first week of May, the ‘Full-moon of Waso’ in July and the ‘Full-moon of Wagaung’ in August, to definitely joyous when the ‘Full-moon of Thadingyut’ in the Burmese month of Thadingyut (September/October) has arrived and the ‘Festival of Lights’ (that marks the end of the Buddhist Lent and the monsoon season) is celebrated as well as the four weeks later following ‘Full-moon of Tazaungmon’ (October/November) when the people celebrate the ‘Tazaungdine Festival’.

In addition to the many nation-wide held festivals there are also numerous locally celebrated festivals. For instance, Thingyan, Burmese Water Festival is celebrated nation-wide but there are also additional New Year Festivals of religious and ethnic minorities. These are the Christian New Year (December/January), the Chinese New Year (February), the Karen New Year (January) and the purely locally celebrated Naga New Year ‘Kaing Bi’ (January). The festival calendar does moreover include other Christian festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, the Hindu festival ‘Dewali’ in October, the Islamic ‘Bakri Idd’ at the end of November and many other festivals celebrated by minority groups.

New Year Festivals, Boat Racing Festivals, Festivals of Light, Pagoda Festivals, Temple Festivals, Weaving Festivals, Harvest Festivals, Nat Festivals; festivals and celebrating on end. Happiness and smiling faces are everywhere. An atmosphere of joyousness pervades the whole country. That is one of Burma’s many loveable aspects. At this point I deem it important to call to your attention that it is very difficult – often even downright impossible – to separate historical facts from the great mass of myth and legend. This is particularly true when it comes to e.g. Siddhartha Gautama Buddha and his life both of which play an important role against the backdrop that most Burmese festivals have its roots in Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism, to be precise) and that about 86% of the Burmese are Buddhists.

If you have the time and money needed you can travel the country and begin the circle of festivals by celebrating ‘Thingyan’, the Burmese New Year in April, continue with the ‘Full-moon of Kason’ in May, The ‘Mount Popa Festival’ in June, ‘Dhammasetkyar’/’Dammacakya’, the ‘Full-moon of Waso’ in July, the ‘Full-moon of Wagaung’ in August, the ‘Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival’ and ‘Boat Racing Festival’ in August/September, the ‘Thadingyut Festival of Lights’ in September/October, the ‘Lu Ping Festival’ and the ‘Full-moon of Tazaungmon Festival of Lights’ in November, the ‘Ananda Pagoda Festival’ in December, the ‘Naga New Year Festival’ in January, the ‘Harvesting Festival’ on ‘New-moon of Tabodwe’ in February and end with the ‘Full-moon of Tabaung’ in March, the last month of the Burmese year. Whatever the nature of the festival and accordingly the spirit in which you celebrate it might be, I hope you will enjoy it. Have fun and be happy!

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