Myanmar or Burma (its old name) is a developing country in Southeast Asia. It may not be a superpower or an Asian “Tiger” economy, but it is slowly and steadily inching its way to progress and economic significance. In tourism, the country is making great strides; quickly becoming a major Asian vacation destination for its historical landmarks, beaches, waterfalls, several temples and golden pagodas, delicious traditional cuisine and the very friendly locals (called Burmese). Having been influenced by many different Eastern and Western cultures and religions, the Burma culture and people have a lot to offer. The Burmese are fun-loving people, and the culture and festivals in Myanmar are vibrant, full of color and unique.
The biggest foreign influences to Myanmar culture are India, China and Thailand, which is quite evident in the local dishes, traditions, festivities and ancient temples and stupas scattered all over the country. The single largest religion practiced by a huge majority of the population is Theravada Buddhism. Like in Thailand, even the tiniest villages in the most remote locations have a village temple for villagers to pray. Minor religions but also on the rise are Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
The Burmese love festivals and festivities. They observe a number of ceremonies and holidays to commemorate cultural, historic and religious occasions. Most Burma festivals have something to do with the pagodas, harvest and changing of seasons, and many are observed in exactly the same way that they were observed hundreds of years ago. One of the most awaited festivals is the Thingyan Water Festival or Burmese New Year Water Festival where young people go around town dousing each other with water on the first four days of this 5-day celebration. The water fights make this celebration very similar to the Lao New Year celebration, Cambodian New Year and the famous Songkran festivities in Thailand. The older people, however, commemorate the New Year in the temples to pray and meditate. Unlike western holidays with fixed days, many Asian countries base their celebrations and religious holidays on the lunar calendar. In Myanmar, for example, the date for Thingyan is calculated according to the traditional luni-solar calendar, and often the Burmese New Year Water Festival falls on April 13 to 16, often coinciding with Easter.
Meanwhile, many other leading Burmese festivals are pagoda festivals, such as the one held at the Lawkananda Pagoda, Myazedi Pagoda and Thatbyinnyu Pagoda in Bagan. The Thatbyinnyu Pagoda complex is one of the most picturesque, intriguing and mesmerizing tourist attractions in the country. It is a huge ancient structure that towers over all the other monuments in the city of Bagan. Typically, pagoda-related Myanmar festivals are times for colorful parades, feasting and to invite monks to the home of devotees to be offered foods and donations. They are celebrated during a full moon or the eve of a full moon.
Another major pagoda festival is the Ananda Pagoda Festival, again in Bagan. This is considered the most crowded celebration for the most beautiful temple. It happens before the full moon and usually in January or early February. Its main purpose is to raise money for the maintenance of this thousand-year-old temple, which makes it a very important cultural and religious heritage. Stalls and shops are put up around the temple, and so people come not only to worship but also to shop. The celebrations (and shopping) are typically observed by thousands of devotees and tourists (local and foreign). Most locals come wearing Thanaka, a unique Burmese yellow face paint that is supposed to keep people cool despite the tropical heat.
Other celebrations of culture and festivals in Myanmar are the Great Footprints Pilgrimage in February, Bo Bo Gyi Nat Festival in March, Shwemawdaw Festival in April, Shwe-kyet-yet Event in May, Waso Full Moon Festival in July, Elephant Dance Festival in September, The Thadingyut Festival of Lights in October, Hot Air Balloons Festival in November and Christmas in December, just to name a few among so many exciting national events.