|Two Kachin children in native
dress from Northern Myanmar
The Christmas celebration is always a communal one for our parish which is located in the northern part of Myanmar (Burma) near our border with China. It is a time of celebration as a family, as a local community and as a parish community at large. Christmas is always associated with colder weather (though not extreme). Christmas caroling begins on the first day of December. Lots of prayer gatherings are held in different households and gift-giving especially to the children.
Theses are times to reach out to people living in more remote areas of our parish who cannot go to the parish church due to their isolation. There was one memorable Christmas celebration held in a far remote area of the parish in conjunction with the silver jubilee celebration of a catechist. He was the leaders of a community of about ten Catholic families in his village and nearby areas as well.
To reach the site of the celebrations, we had to travel a half day by boat down the river and an entire day crossing many fields and marching through the jungle. About 50 youth volunteers from different parts of our parish which covers several towns and villages, went to the site of the celebration months ahead to set up everything for the occasion since there were few Catholic families living there. The site was located right beside a small creek. They chose this site for practical reasons because the small creek would provide water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
|Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Mary’s
Catholic Cathedral in Yangon, Myanmar
Practically everything needed for the occasion had to be transported from the city and set up by the volunteers led by a lay leader from our parish and two senior seminarians. They built several large and smaller bamboo shelters to host all the people. To lessen the work of the organizing committee, all the visitors were given raw food and each did their own cooking. All had great fun trying to do ordinary things under fairly extraordinary circumstances.
These two celebrations, Christmas and the catechist’s Silver Jubilee, attracted about a thousand people coming from all corners of our parish. The Christmas Eve celebration was a very touching celebration, especially for the villagers living in areas where Christmas is seldom celebrated with the Eucharist. The celebrations were well attended by priests, religious, fellow catechists and the faithful who honored the catechist for the years of faithful service that he rendered to the people. This celebration also lent him the moral support he needed to continue in leading and serve his people.
|Children participate in parish Christmas plays|
To spice up the celebrations, spectacular entertainment was put on by different youth groups on two different evenings. Even a movie was shown – which is simply unheard of in that area.
Everything went smoothly until the morning when we began our trek back home. We were caught in a heavy downpour which made our journey difficult especially because we were not familiar with traveling on such treacherously muddy roads.
In spite of all the hardships and inconveniences we experienced before, during, and after the celebration, it was the most memorable celebration I ever had in my life! Everyone seemed to enjoy the celebration with a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I believe what made the celebration meaningful was the sense of solidarity and the community spirit that we shared.
As I reflected on my experience at that particular Christmas, I realized that the celebration of Christmas is not only a reminder that Christ is born for us and for our salvation. It also celebrates that we are truly brothers and sisters in the name of the infant born in a manger so many years ago.
On Christmas Day in Yangon visitors can see (left) Christmas decorations in Kandawgyi
Park or (right) go to Shwedagon Pagoda, the holiest Buddhist Shrine in Myanmar