A Guide To Myanmar's Magical Light Festivals

Photo of Chase Chisholm
Blogger7 November 2017

By far the biggest, must-experience festivity in Myanmar is Thingyan—a huge, several-day water festival that rings in the Buddhist New Year. But several other celebrations, such as the light festivals of Thadingyut and Tazaungdaing, aren’t to be missed either. Both promise to excite and enchant with their vibrancy and traditions.

Candles on a veranda in Yangon, Myanmar | © Chase Chisholm

Thadingyut Festival

Most major holidays in Myanmar come from the Burmese calendar, which trails phases of the moon and the solar time of year. Thadingyut takes place for three days during the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the beginning of October), and marks the end of Buddhist lent. It’s a time for families to come together and celebrate Buddha’s descent to earth after visiting his mother in heaven.

Cities throughout the country are especially aglow during Thadingyut. Fireworks haphazardly shot into the night crisscrossed with colorful strings of dangling lights, making this second most popular national holiday wildly delightful. Locals and travelers alike are beckoned to explore radiant streets and illuminated pagodas, all lit up to resemble a welcoming pathway for Buddha’s return to the mortal world.

Colorful street lights hung over a neighborhood street in Yangon | © Chase Chisholm

Consider it luck if the power goes out in Yangon on the actual evening of the full moon of Thadingyut. The occasion becomes even more spectacular when blinking electric lights get replaced with more traditional glowing lines of candles in windows, up rooftops, on verandas, and even along the ground.

Myanmar children light candles to celebrate Thadingyut | © Chase Chisholm

Thadingyut serves as a time for respect to be intentionally shown to elders in the family, and to those with highly valued positions in Burmese society such as teachers and bosses as well. In exchange for paying respect and asking for forgiveness, it’s customary to receive pocket money.

Tazaungdaing Festival

The full-moon night of Tazaungmon, which occurs in the eighth month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the start of November), represents the ending of the rainy season in Myanmar and the beginning of a time to offer new robes and donations at monasteries. It also stems from an act involving Buddha’s mother, in which she spent all night weaving yellow robes for him to wear as he entered into his renunciation of worldly matters.

If you’re sticking around Yangon for the Tazaungdaing Festival, an annual robe-weaving competition held at the Shwedagon Pagoda is worth getting tangled up in. But, if witnessing one of Myanmar’s craziest and likely most dangerous gatherings sounds more appealing, head to Taunggyi in Shan State for its famous candle-lit hot air balloon competition.

Buddhists prepare to release a hot air balloon at the Taunggyi Festival | © Shutterstock

Thrill-seekers should be cautious when attending the “fire balloon” festival in Taunggyi, as watching flaming balloons hover and shooting off fireworks over large crowds of people isn’t necessarily the safest thing to do.

As if witnessing the launching of “fire balloons” or neighborhood firecrackers doesn’t already seem thrilling enough, the chance to experience a human-powered Ferris Wheel may be had at Taunggyi’s celebration, or even at one of Yangon’s street fairs.

A human-powered Ferris Wheel at fire balloon festival in Taunggyi | © Tom Godber / Flickr

There’s something that will blow everyone’s mind during Myanmar’s light festivals. Both Thadingyut and Tazaungdaing also bring street shows and vendors to neighborhoods throughout the country, and carnivals packed with all sorts of food, fun, and entertainment to larger cities.

Prices don’t tend to rise too much during public holidays in Myanmar, but booking accommodation and transit tickets to and from more famous celebration sites far in advance comes highly recommended.

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