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Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country and like many other Buddhist countries, holidays are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. The lunar year is twelve months long and starts and ends in mid-April.


The beginning of the New Year is marked with celebrations that last three to ten days and it is the largest public celebration during the lunar year. The festival is called Thingyan and people welcome the New Year by playing with water in the streets. The New Year is a time of renewal and throwing water at each other serves the purpose of washing away and purifying the old and welcoming the new. Furthermore, April is the hottest month of the year and throwing water at each other can be a great relief from the sun and heat. People fill buckets, water guns or even water hoses with water and use every opportunity to drench passers-by. Stages, also called pandals, are set up for dancing and throwing water at people.


The New Year celebrations in Mandalay are infamous for their extravagance and intensity. It is a fun time for everybody and many of the behavioral rules that are usually in place for children and teenagers are relaxed, and it is acceptable to violate social hierarchies. While it is a time forfun and play, it is also an important time for contemplation and mediation. Many people observe the eight precepts, offer donations to monks and on the first day of the New Year (which is the last day of the celebrations), and people pay respect to their elders by washing their hair and feet. Many boys are ordained as novices for a short time to make merit for themselves and their families. The ceremony is called shin byu and during the ceremony, the boys enact the symbolic transformation of a prince to a monk.


The fourth month in the lunar calendar, wa so (July), marks the beginning of the Buddhist lent, a time of religious contemplation and sobriety. Laypeople offer robes to monks and many men go through initiation to become monks. The Buddhist lent marks a period in which limited travel for monks is allowed and many people eat vegetarian.

 Buddhist lent lasts three months and the end culminates in another large celebration around the full moon: Thadingyut.Thadingyut is also referred to as the festival of lights. People put candles outside their houses and release balloons. Everybody goes out to festival grounds where they celebrate together, enjoying food and entertainment. At the same time, people pay respect to their elders and visit monks.


The three holidays explained above might be the largest holidays, but they are by no means the only holidays celebrated. The population of Myanmar is diverse and the holidays above only reflect the main Buddhist holidays. There are other traditional celebrations such as the Manau festival that the Kachin people celebrate or the Deeku festival that the Kayah people celebrate. Christians and Muslims in Myanmar celebrate other religious holidays as well.


For further information see Khin Myo Chit and Paw Oo Thets’ excellent Festivals and Flowers of the Twelve Burmese Seasons.