Christmas in Myanmar

A Columban Sister shares with us her first Christmas in a far-off land.

I will never forget my first Christmas among the Kachin people of Northern Myanmar. I had come there some months previously and before I even realised it, the Advent Season of preparation for Christmas had arrived.

The commercialised build-up to this great feast, so much a part of our present-day world, was totally absent in this little corner of the globe. Christmas was just around the corner, but nowhere was there any outward sign that might urge us to drink more, eat more and spend more.

Myanmar is a Buddhist country but there are many Catholics in the area where I live and work. At the time the Sisters I was living with were the only ones in the whole area who had put up a few tiny decorations three days before Christmas. The students in the Catechetical School also had a small crib in the chapel.

However, in the convent there was no crib. I asked the Sisters if I could prepare a crib and they said I could. With the help of some of the students from the Catechetical School I built a stable out of bamboo and grass and placed the Baby Jesus, this one with a broken arm, in the crib. There was no Mary or Joseph, no shepherds or kings, no animals, to fill out the crib - only Jesus lying all alone on his bed of grass.

In the beginning, I felt sad about the crib we had made. However, the more I prayed and reflected on what lay before me, the more I discovered within this simple scene the real meaning of Christmas.

Jesus with a broken arm lying alone in the cold stable was an orphan with no-one to care for him and hold him close.

There were no animals whose breath might alleviate the awful cold.

I could not help but ask myself was He any different from so many people in our world today, particularly children, who are deprived of the necessities of life and the warmth of someone to love them.

Here in the hills of Myanmar, a place rich in natural resources, my heart aches to see children during the cold winter months without warm clothes and wearing only rubber thongs on their feet. Their homes are just like the one that we made for Baby Jesus - constructed of bamboo and grass and full of holes that let the cold winter wind pass in and out.

The celebration of Christmas in Myanmar is simple. There is no big meal at home. Instead, all the Christians gather in the village centre bringing whatever food they can afford.

After a programme of songs and dances, each family opens what they have brought, share some of it with those around, and then together they enjoy their Christmas meal. Usually, there are games for the children and gifts of candy and fruit.  

Looked at from a commercial point of view, this celebration lacks all that we have been so cleverly told is necessary for our Christmas to be full of joy and happiness.

However, having now spent my first Christmas in this faraway land, I can truly say that being able to share in the simple joys of the people, secure in the knowledge that God is truly in our midst in all His poverty, gives me more joy than all the tinsel and glitter that can so easily dazzle our Christmas eyes.

Columban Sr Tammy Saberon is from Molave, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines.

Read more from The Far East, November/December 2012


Order your 2012 Subanen Christmas Cards