Karen (Kayin) New Year Date in the current year: January 6, 2019

Karen (Kayin) New Year Karen New Year, also known as Kayin New Year, is a public holiday in Myanmar usually celebrated in December or January. It focuses on the culture of the Karen people, who make up about 7% of Myanmar’s population.

The Karen, Kayin, Kariang or Yang people refer to a number of ethnic groups speaking Sino-Tibetan languages and residing primarily in Kayin (formerly Karen) State of Myanmar, although there is also a significant Karen population in Thailand, resulting from immigration. The Karen people as a whole are often confused with the Padaung tribe, known for the brass neck coils worn by their women, but the Padaung are just a sub-group of Karens.

The Kayin tribes are believed to have migrated from Mongolia to what is now Myanmar over 2,700 years ago. The Karen ethnic groups aren’t homogeneous, and a pan-Karen ethnic identity began to emerge relatively recently. Following the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the Karen people started to create various nationalist organizations campaigning for the self-determination of the Kayin people of Myanmar.

What followed was considerable tension between the Kayin community and the Burmese majority. After the 1962 Burmese coup d'état, the Karen were one of the largest ethnic minorities participating in an insurgency against the military rule. The conflict between the Karen people and the Myanmar government resulted in a refugee crisis along the Thailand-Myanmar border. Despite the end of the military rule, the relations between the Kayin and the government of Myanmar are still strained.

Although many of the Karen groups don’t share common traditions, culture, religion, or language, there’s at least one major holiday that’s celebrated by all of them. Karen New Year falls on the first day of the month of Pyathoe, marking the end of the rice harvest. As Karens use the lunar calendar, the date of the holiday is not fixed in the Gregorian calendar. Because of calendar differences, Karen New Year may not occur some years or may occur twice a year.

Karen New Year was officially recognized for the first time as a public holiday in 1938, during the British colonial rule. In independent Myanmar, it has been celebrated as a public holiday since 2009. One of the motivations behind the Myanmar government’s decision to make it official was to try and make peace with the Karen people.

On Karen New Year, the Kayin people eat steamed sticky rice to celebrate the new rice harvest. Over the years, however, the holiday has become much more than a harvest festival. On this day, the Karen communities of Myanmar and the diaspora celebrate their unique cultural identity and national unity. On the occasion of the holiday, Karens wear traditional clothing, visit friends and family, and attend various events dedicated to the Karen cultural heritage.

Special events are held all over Kayin State for Karen New Year. They include dancing contests where traditional Kayin dances and songs are performed, student award ceremonies, speeches, exhibitions on Kayin history and culture, parades, and more. The best known Kayin dance performed at these celebrations is don (meaning “to be in agreement”). It originated with the Pwo Karen tribe and has since become a shared cultural heritage of the Karen people.

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Category

Public Holidays, Folk Festivals

Country

Myanmar

Tags

Karen New Year, Kayin New Year, holidays in Myanmar, public holidays, traditional holidays