Sweet times, sweet weather, Sweet December

The ‘Sweet December’ celebrations that have become increasingly popular among Myanmar people of all backgrounds over the past decade are likely to have originated in one of the country’s Christian communities.


IF YOU conduct a search on the omniscient Google for “Sweet December”, the first result is a song by an Australia pop punk band and the second is a café in suburban Bangkok. But third, fourth and fifth on the list of 11.8 million results are references to December 1 marking the start of “Sweet December” celebrations by Kayin Christians in Myanmar and throughout the world.

I used to think the “Sweet December” celebrations were a cultural import from the West until an Australian friend disabused me of the idea. I had shared the view of many Myanmar that “Sweet December” was something that had entered our culture because of Western influence, a bit like Valentine’s Day or celebrating the arrival of the Gregorian New Year.

The culture of celebrating “Sweet December” began growing in popularity in Myanmar about a decade ago, apparently because it spread from Kayin Christians. Whatever the reason, it has been embraced by Buddhists as well as Christians, but in different ways. It helped that a festive, holiday mood tends to prevail in December.

For Christians, December is the month to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Many Myanmar Christians celebrate the holy month in simple ways, gathering together to cook and share good food and to pray. For them the underlying theme of “Sweet December” is a deeply religious but happy occasion.

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Buddhists don’t miss the chance to celebrate “Sweet December”, but in their own way. Although Buddhists have a series of significant dates and events to mark throughout the year, they don’t mind having another. They celebrate by giving sweets to loved ones, especially younger relatives, so that their December is even sweeter.

The younger generation marks the arrival of the last month of the year by giving sweets as well as flowers to those for whom they have special feelings. These gifts are usually given on December 1. If you are presented with sweets and flowers during December, you can be sure that someone cares for you. It’s a cute way to celebrate “Sweet December”.

Some young people like to arrange a special date on December 1 even though it does not have the same significance for the romantically-inclined as Valentine’s Day.

For better off residents of the cities, December is party time. The month marks the start of parties and other celebrations and you need to check well in advance of December 1 to decide which venue is hosting the event that you most want to attend. The choices this year included a salsa party at Union Bar and a DJ night at Pioneer nightclub.

A Google search does not give an indication of how widely popular “Sweet December” has become in Myanmar because the results it produces focus on Kayin Christians. But Facebook does. “Sweet December” is a major event for Facebook users in Myanmar, with long posts and lots of hashtags. It’s an indication of how important it has become to the younger generation.

It can be interesting to observe how foreigners react to the “Sweet December” culture that has flourished in Myanmar. They are often initially tentative but quickly discover that the mood of happiness is contagious and become smiling participants, a bit like their first response to the exuberant revels of the Thingyan traditional New Year festival.

The cool, dry December weather is glorious after the moist misery of the monsoon and the relentless heat of the hot season.

The French-Canadian cartoonist, Mr Guy Delisle, in his book Burma Chronicles, said Myanmar has two seasons: a hot one and a hotter one.

For citizens and visitors, December marks the start of a few precious weeks’ relief from unbearable heat. For us, December is the sweetest month of all.

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