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Gift Giving and Friendly Mischief: Myanmar’s Festival of Light

Ta Saung Tine Festival

The people of Myanmar mark the coming of winter with Ta Saung Tine festival of lights, held in November at the time of the full moon.

The festival is the second of Myanmar’s two celebrations of light. Seasonally, it marks the end of the monsoon rains and the beginning of the pleasant cool season. The evening of the full moon is the most memorable part of this holiday. At dusk, various pagodas around the country host ceremonial candle or lamp lighting festivals. At Kyait-ti-yo Pagoda, a site believed to be particularly auspicious, a large festival is held and 9,999 candles are lit at dusk.

As darkness falls on the evening of the full moon, those who have not ventured out to a local pagoda will set candles in the windows of their homes and along the street. Neighborhoods throughout Myanmar glow with candlelight on this evening. Within the neighborhoods, various families will hand out small gifts, such as snacks or useful household items, to their neighbors and their children. In many communities, a few families will cook and serve a meal to the surrounding neighborhood.

Buddhist families believe that the Cassia (မယ္ဇလီ) tree is visited by heavenly spirits on the day of the full moon. At this time of year, the Cassia tree is full of flowerbuds, and people harvest these buds and prepare them as a salad (also known as mezali phu thoke (မယ္ဇလီဖူးသုပ္). Buddhists believe that the presence of the spirits in the tree on full moon day gives the tree power to grant them good health and to cure disease, and so they will eat hearty portions of the cassia bud salad. Some families will prepare the cassia buds as a soup for children who do not like the sour taste of the salad. Common belief is that those who eat the salad at midnight will gain even more strength and good health.

Being awake to eat salad at midnight can be a wise idea on the night of the full moon: it is common knowledge that some young people will spend time playing practical jokes on their neighbors, either by “stealing” small items by moving them from one house to another, or by moving things around a neighbor’s yard so that they are difficult to find the next day. This custom is called “don’t wake the crows”, and anyone who doesn’t want to track down their misplaced belongings keeps things indoors on the night of the full moon.

The Ta Saung Tine festival is also a significant time of gift giving to the local Buddhist monastary. Families will visit the monastery together in order to present gifts for the monks: new robes, soap, umbrellas, sandals or food. In the weeks leading up to Ta Saung Tine, communities will erect wooden frames and use them to collect and display cash gifts. These displays sit on the street corners until the Full Moon day, at which time they are carried to the nearest pagoda and presented to the monks.

On the two nights of the Ta Saung Tine festival, pagodas across Myanmar host all night weaving competitions. Teams of local weavers gather at dusk and work non-stop throughout the night to weave new robes for the monks, presenting the completed robes to the monastery at sunrise the following day. This year the weaving competition will take place on the 21st and 22nd of November. If you are in Myanmar during the November full moon, be sure to head to the nearest weaving festival to watch the weavers in action!

Breanna Randall

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