Myanmar Festivals: Buddhist festivals fall all year round in Myanmar and usually coincide with the full moon. There are also many festivals that are specific to particular villages or temples. The best source of accurate information concerning these festivals is the Myanmar Embassy.
Temple fairs or pagoda festivals, lasting a week or longer, are the equivalent of western fun fairs, with entertainers, magicians, puppeteers, musicians, clairvoyants, healers and patent medicine purveyors moving from one fair to the next bringing excitement, colour and a much-earned break to the lives of local people. Spirit festivals, known as Nat Pwes, whilst having only a tacit connection to Buddhism, have equal significance and share a tendency to coincide with the full moon. Major festivals fall during March,Buddhist Lent (July-September) and December.
Thingyan Water Festival ( April )
Thingyan is the Burmese New Year Water Festival and usually falls around mid-April (the Burmese month of Tagu). It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days culminating in the new year.
Formerly the dates of the Thingyan festival are calculated according to the traditional Burmese lunisolar calendar, but now fixed to Gregorian calendar 13 to 16 April; it often coincides with Easter.The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout Burma and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year.
Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival.
Celebrating the Myanmar New Year, this festival lasts for several days and is marked by major, good-natured water throwing. It is also a time of merit making, and older people go to temples for prayer and alms giving.
The Kason Festival ( May )
Representing the day the Buddha was born, the day He attained Enlightenment, and the day of His passing, this festival falls on the day of the full moon of Kason in the Myanmar calendar, in early May. Visits are made to pagodas to water the sacred Bo Trees – under which species the Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment.
The Waso Festival ( July )
Commemorating the Buddha’s first sermon, this festival also marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Monks are given new robes and other requirements to tide them through the months ahead.
Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Lights) ( October )
The Thadingyut Festival, the Lighting Festival of Myanmar is held on the full moon day of the Burmese Lunar month of Thadingyut. As a custom, it is held at the end of the Buddhist lent (Vassa) and is the second most popular festival in Myanmar after Thingyan Festival (New Year Water Festival).
Thadingyut festival is the celebration to welcome the Buddha’s descent from the heaven after he preached the Abhidhamma to his mother, Maya, who was reborn in the heaven.
Marking the end of Buddhist Lent, this festival, held on the full moon day of Thadingyut, lasts for three days during which houses and streets are festively decorated and illuminated. People crowd into their local pagodas to offer alms and make merit. Younger people also pay homage to their parents, elders and teachers.
Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda Festival, Inle Lake ( October )
The Inle Lake Region of Burma is not only aesthetically compelling, it is also historically important. The lake is the site of the deeply revered Buddhist site Phaung Daw Oo (variantly Hpaung Daw U) Pagoda which houses five gilded images of Buddha of different sizes that are no longer discernible (as Buddhas) because they have been covered with thousands of gold leaves over time.
The fluvial procession that takes place during the waxing of the moon until three days after the full moon of Thadingyut (from September to October) and takes these images around the stilted villages of Inle Lake is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival.
It is widely attended by thousands of devotees from the Shan state and around country. Because of Burma’s isolation in recent years, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is one of Southeast Asian festivals that mirror the people’s authentic celebration of their faith and local culture, an apt and colorful introduction to any travel to Myanmar.
Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda’s Buddha images are ferried from village to villages for people to pay homage. Fairs, dances, the leg rowers’ boat races and general festivities counterbalance the more austere ceremonial aspect. This is the biggest celebration in the Shan state.
Elephant Dance Festival ( October )
Though enacted in several towns and villages, the town with the best festival is Kyauk-se, 40km south of Mandalay. Two full size paper elephants, one black, one white, each with two men inside, dance through the town with much pageantry and ceremony.
Tazaungdaing Festival ( November )
Held on the full moon day of Tazaungmon according to the Myanmar Calendar, this festival finds houses and public buildings decorated and brightly lit. Robes and other requisites are offered to monks with the special offering of Mathothigan – a robe that is woven in one single day – held on the eve of the full moon. Dedicated teams of weavers compete with one another to complete the robes, which are then reverently offered to images of Buddha.
Christmas Festival ( December )
Many people in Myanmar celebrate Christmas Day on December 25.