Myanmar or Burma is playing with political reforms which in turn open up its tourism potential as an unsullied Southeast Asian country with no Golden Arches or Starbucks (yet) in sight. As a Buddhist nation, the Burmese celebrate most of its holidays as religious occasions, apart from the handful that commemorate the foundation of Burma and other national events.
Below is the list of Myanmar public holidays 2014 which surprisingly, leave plenty of businesses open, except for banks, and except when Maha Thingyan is celebrated (when everything is shuttered and it’s all just fun!). As with any event relying on the local sighting of the new moon, Buddhist festival dates may still be moved until confirmed by the local authorities.
Independence Day – Saturday, 4 January 2014
On this day in 1948, Myanmar gained independence from Britain. To mark this day, sports events, concerts and community fairs are held in most major cities in Myanmar, along with cultural performances that highlight the traditions of Burma before it fell under British rule. Events sponsored by the government are not as widely celebrated.
Union Day or Unification Day – Wednesday, 12 February 2014
On this day in 1947, Bogyoke Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) led the Myanmar state representatives into a unification meeting called the Panglong Conference. In this meeting, state representatives agreed to enter into the Union of Burma, a transitional government headed by Gen. Aung San. The Union was formed in order to seek independence from British control, which eventually took place a few months after. Now that the Myanmar junta has welcomed (positive) changes, certain sectors of the Burmese society particularly those marginalized, can now openly celebrate with flag-raising events and even military parades.
Peasants Day – Sunday, 2 March 2014
As an agro-based economy, Myanmar has a large population of ‘peasantry’ engaged in farm work and supportive sectors. On this day, the peasants are addressed and honored by the president in mainstream broadcast and print media.
Full Moon of Tabaung – Friday, 7 March 2014
The Full Moon of Tabaung is the Burmese equivalent of (Thailand) Makha Bucha when 1,250 Buddhist disciples gathered spontaneously before Buddha to hear his sermons. Tabaung refers to the last month in the Burmese calendar, which happens to coincide with the Gregorian month of March. On this day, people celebrate by building sand stupas and offering alms to the monks. This is also the start of the season, which coincides with post-harvest, when pagoda festivals take place in major monasteries like that of Shwedagon, Kek-Ku and Inn-Daw-Gyi.
Armed Forces Day – Thursday, 27 March 2014
On this day, members of the Armed Forces of Myanmar perform military parades in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, in honor of the servicemen, both fallen and in active duty, and as an opportunity to showcase the country’s military might. Apart from speeches given by the commander-in-chief and other high-ranking military officials, there are no flag-hoisting events taking place in Yangon and anywhere else, as the day’s celebrations are often subdued and limited to the capital. This year, iconic leader and daughter of the general who established the Myanmar Armed Forces, Aung San Suu Kyi, attended the Nay Pyi Taw celebrations.
Water Festival (Maha Thingyan) – Sunday to Wednesday, 13 to 16 April 2014
The Burmese equivalent of spring festival falls in the same month as the celebrations of the Burmese New Year Water Festival, or Maha Thingyan, the most important festival in Burma. Cultural performances and legendary floats feature prominently in the festivities, although it is the water dousing up to the second day before last that takes the spotlight. In this respect, Maha Thingyan is similar to Thailand’s Songkran.
Myanmar New Year – Thursday, 17 April 2014
Maha Thingyan culminates on the celebrations of Myanmar New Year. On this day, young people visit their families and offer water in a terra cotta pot and shampoo to their elders, sometimes performing hair-washing using traditional beans and bark. This is also the time when devout Buddhists make food offerings in various places, listen to Dharma teachings in monasteries, and give alms to monks and to those who join the New Year festivities.
Labor Day – Thursday, 1 May 2014
On this day, Myanmar joins the international community in honoring the social and economic contributions of the workers to their society.
Full Moon of Kason – Monday, 5 May 2014
The Full Moon of Kason is more famously known as Vesak, or the day of the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. On this day, Burmese Buddhists take part in the ceremony which involves the watering of the Bodhi tree in various pagodas throughout the country, the sacred tree under which Buddha was said to have achieved enlightenment.
Martyrs’ Day – Saturday, 19 July 2014
After the Panglong Conference in February, the transitional government of the Union of Burma headed by Bogyoke Aung San and other leaders decided to secede from British control and were working to achieve independence when they were assassinated on this day in 1947. The major events take place at the Martyrs Mausoleum underneath the Shwedagon Pagoda where wreath are laid to the tombs of General Aung San and eight others who were killed on that same grim event. The Myanmar junta’s relaxed grip on censorship lately has opened the mausoleum to the public where they could pay tributes to the fallen leaders of the Union of Burma who worked to achieve independence which they themselves did not live to see.
Full Moon of Waso (Beginning of Buddhist Lent) – Saturday, 2 August 2014
The Full Moon of Waso coincides with the start of the Buddhist Lent when monks would gather in monasteries and retreat centers all over Myanmar to reflect on the teachings of Buddha and engage in meditations. The Full Moon of Waso also marks the start of the monsoons, so the monks spent the rest of the season, usually three months long, in monasteries. The devout take this time to offer monks new robes, and gather wild flowers to be offered in pagodas.
Full Moon of Thadingyut (End of Buddhist Lent) – Thursday, 30 October 2014
The Full Moon of Thadingyut marks the end the Buddhist Lent and is celebrated in a similar fashion to Deepavali or the Festival of Lights. Houses, monasteries, public buildings and streets are illumined on the occasion of this festival, to mark and welcome the descent of Buddha from the heavens to his earthly abode. It is also customary for young people to pay homage to their elderly and to seek forgiveness from them for perceived or actual transgressions.
Tazaungmone Full Moon Day – Friday, 28 November 2014
On this day, Buddha returned back to earth after his visit to his mother’s reincarnated spirit in the heavens. Lighting candles to welcome Buddha back also marks this occasion, but the more prominent event is the robe-weaving activity that happen overnight, a tradition that was started when Buddha’s stepmother offered him a robe she had made. A more compelling sight is when people send up fire balloons to commemorate a prince’s journey to become Buddha.
National Day – Monday, 8 December 2014
The National Day is usually on the 10th day after the full moon of Tazaungmone, and this commemorates the start of bitter student protests against British policies. The National Day has not been openly celebrated in Burma for a long time (as the Myanmar junta policy is to request permission for any gathering of a large number of people) but amidst waves of political reforms, people have begun to gather, celebrate their cultural heritage and share food in celebration of this day.
Christmas Day – Thursday, 25 December 2014
Despite the country’s steep adherence to Theravada Buddhism, Myanmar celebrates the birth of the Christian savior, albeit with a subdued atmosphere. Christmas services are held on the day itself, and only in (infrequent) chapels that have (small) Christian populations.