Christmas in Myanmar

Surprisingly, Christmas decorations and celebrations are omnipresent in Yangon around Christmas time. Myanmar is a predominately Buddhist country, although Yangon houses the most ethnic and religious diversity. During the leadership of U Nu in the 1960’s, Myanmar even had Buddhism as the state religion. Everyday Buddhism is ubiquitous with at least one pagoda within a mile radius of any location (or so it seems), monks and nuns wandering the streets for donations in the mornings, and buddha figures in shops and taxis. But for some reason, Christmas is not only accepted, it’s celebrated.

Shopping malls have elaborate Christmas decorations and massive Christmas trees. People freely wish you a Merry Christmas. Even the school that I teach at (which is comprised of almost all Buddhists) has Christmas decorations on display and is having a Christmas celebration tomorrow.

I cannot help but think-why are Buddhists so willing to celebrate Christmas? One reason that comes to mind is colonialism and westernization. I also find the unfortunate irony in the fact that Buddhists celebrate Christmas, but would never fathom celebrating any Islamic holidays.

There’s no denying that Christmas has become very commercialized. People can celebrate Christmas without truly believing in the Christian values behind the holiday, especially when Christmas has such a strong presence in the west through social media and entertainment. A lot of wealthier people in Yangon strive to be more western through their clothing and lifestyle choices, so it’s not surprising that they would also adopt the celebrations around Christmas as maybe more a form of westernization than Christianity.

Also, Christians are not viewed with hostility in Yangon. I imagine that part of this stems from people being forced to accept Christianity when colonized by the British. Many Karen, Kachin, and Chin people converted to Christianity because of American Baptist missionaries, so it’s possible that Christianity is more integrated with Burmese culture.

Aside from this, I cannot help but find it fascinating that people accept Christmas, but express so much hatred for Muslims. Buddhists celebrate and convert to the religion of the people who colonized them, but despise the religion of people who are being tortured and killed by the Myanmar government? Even if you argue that Muslims from India came to Yangon during colonization and had far greater economic success than Buddhist Burmese, which generated a lot of hate towards Indian Muslims and sparked many fights between Burmese and Muslims, the British Christians were the ones who colonized the country and had absolute power! I cannot see how you could make an argument that Muslims have caused more economic and political harm or violence than Christians in Myanmar.

It doesn’t make sense that people associate such strong feelings of hatred towards Muslims, but love towards Christians. Ultimately, I just find the celebrations to be rather hypocritical.


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