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Monday, 6th June 2016

A guide to Burmese festivals ? one for every month of the year

Festivals are a great way to gain insight into a culture and those travelling to Burma will be spoilt for choice. The population is so into its celebrations that you can attend a large-scale event no matter what time of the year you visit. Read on to find out which festival is scheduled for the month you will be embarking on your Burmese adventure.

January – Independence Day

Every year on January 4th, the anniversary of the Union of Burma coming into effect in 1948 is celebrated. It is a national holiday, meaning everyone can get involved. Sporting activities are organised across the country and equestrian events are often involved.

February – Harvest Festival

Rice is the staple food in much of Asia and Burma is no exception. A plentiful rice harvest is marked with a harvest festival in which the htamane dish is prepared. This national speciality combines sticky rice with sesame seeds, peanuts and ginger for a tasty treat.

March – Shwedagon Pagoda Festival

Burma is a land of pagodas and each of these important religious buildings has its own festival. The largest attract pilgrims and last for several days, with temporary bazaars set up and a wide selection of performers putting on shows. The largest of these festivals is in honour of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, which is held in March.

April – Thingyan

Among the most well-known of Burma’s festivals is Thingyan, marking New Year in the country. It has turned into something of an annual water fight due to the traditional sprinkling of water to rid each other of evil spirits before the coming year gets underway. It’s celebrated nationwide.

May – Bo Tree Watering Festival

The Burmese month of Kason falls in May and is a particularly hot and dry time of year. To ensure that the sacred Bodhi tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment does not die, ritual watering is carried out at pagodas when there is a full moon during the month.

June – Tipitaka Festival

Spiritual life is incredibly important in Burma and in June, when the monsoon is underway, Buddhist months sit their Tipitaka examinations. They are designed to keep the word of the Buddha alive and involve both written and recitation tests. The community supports the monks through donations and devotion.

July – Waso Robe Offering Festival

The beginning of Buddhist lent is marked with a robe-offering ceremony commemorating Buddha’s first sermon. He delivered it 49 days after achieving nirvana. The robes given to the monks during this time are worn throughout lent.

August - Taungbyon Nat Festival

If you are anywhere near Mandalay in August, it is worth attending the Taungbyon Nat Festival. This unique event is the most important of the nat festivals and includes dancing and drinking, as well as bringing offerings to the nat brothers it pays homage to. Trains are specially scheduled to bring worshippers from Mandalay to Taungbyon.

September – Royal Boat Regatta

As the monsoons fade away in September, the month is about one thing for the Burmese – boat racing. You can see the famous one-legged rowers of Inle Lake pitting themselves against each other, but the main event is in Yangon. Kandawgyi or Royal Lake is alive with colour and activity, as the boat races, started by the Burmese kings and now under the patronage of the government, take place.

October - Tazaungdaing Festival

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Tazaungdaing Festival marks the end of Buddhist lent. One of the most poignant traditions associated with the event is for competitions to be held to make resplendent glowing robes for the monks to replace the simple attire they wore during lent. Lanterns containing candles are also released in parts of the country to coincide with the full moon.

November - Shwezigon Pagoda Festival

Marking the end of monsoon on the plains of Bagan, this pagoda festival is a great time to visit the incredible site. See processions and fireworks, as well as offerings made to the Shwezigon Pagoda and alms given to the monks.

December - Akha New Year Festival

Singing and dancing are at the heart of New Year’s celebrations for the Akha tribal group of the eastern Shan Province. They come together at the old city of Keng Tung to mark the occasion in a traditional manner, which is as colourful as it is entertaining.

Related news stories:
How to indulge a sweet tooth in Burma (25th November 2015)
What to expect from Burmese cuisine (2nd September 2015)
The essential glossary for travelling to Burma (17th August 2015)
How to be a vegetarian in Burma (15th October 2015)