There is always plenty to do on holidays to Burma, from exploring ancient monuments to sampling the delicious wares of city teashops. But certain days of the year also bring their own experiences and delights. It is always worth finding out about Burma's national events, in part because public holidays mean that banks and many businesses will close and some forward planning might be necessary, but also because learning about important celebrations can help the visitor to better appreciate the country's social and cultural life - and depending on the nature of the event, to join in and have fun. For an overview of the most significant festivals and other events, read on.
The most important of all holidays to Burma's people is Burmese New Year's Day, which falls, in the Buddhist calendar, on the 17th of April. It is preceded by the water festival of Maha Thingyan, from the 12th to the 16th of April, during which the king of Nats (a group of spirits honoured alongside the Buddha in Burmese religion), Thagyamin, is believed to descend to Earth, bringing blessings for the year to come. The water-pouring ceremonies of old have been replaced in much of the country by lively but good-natured water fights, providing fun for anyone who wishes to participate, whether they be locals or visitors enjoying holidays to Burma. Other key religious events include the pagoda festivals held in March (known as Tabaung), in which the harvest is celebrated and decorative sand temples are built, and Kason, a festival commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Buddhist Lent runs from July 3rd to October 29th, a time for tilling and planting and religious observances. Deepvali, on October 30th, the start of Ramadan, and Christmas Day, on December 25th, are also public holidays.
There are also a number of days marked in the Burmese calendar in honour of important historical events, starting on the 4th of January which is Independence Day, commemorating Burma's Declaration of Independence from the British Empire in 1948. It is observed with fairs and sporting activities. Other national events that visitors may encounter during their holidays to Burma include Union Day on February 12th, the anniversary of the Panglong Agreement between the government and leaders of minority groups, May Day on the 1st of May, held in honour of Burma's workers, Martyr's Day on July 19th, held on the anniversary of the assassination of revolutionary leader Aung San in 1947, and National Day, which commemorates the students' strikes of 1920 against the colonial education system. Beyond these nation-wide events, there are days held culturally or politically significant to the country's many ethnic minorities, including Mon National Day in February and Karen New Year on January 5th.