Christmas Eve at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Rangoon 2010

17 Dec

Christmas Eve at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Rangoon 2010

Around the Christmas and New Year holiday season, most schools close for a week or more, and many people use the time for retreats to monasteries, to Golden Rock, the beach or, for expats, trips upcountry or away from Myanmar altogether.

Arriving and chatting outside St. Mary’s


Singing “Holy Night” under candlelight

The national holidays for me were wonderful times to remain in Rangoon or nearby to avoid the crowds and hassle of traveling during the busy season. During all holidays, except Thingyan, Rangoon was peaceful, calm, devoid of traffic (which wasn’t hard to do before reforms) and a good time to walk around or explore new places in the city.

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Several people told me about St. Mary’s church and how many, many people went on Christmas Eve, that it had a carnival atmosphere outside and a different candle-lit vibe inside. We went for the experience of being there, not for the mass and it was a very memorable evening.

Inside St. Mary’s before the ceremony began

In 2010 there was no electricity at night. Any place lit was using a generator. Arriving at St Mary’s Cathedral was quite a treat. It certainly was a carnival with street vendors of all kinds lining the road and setting up anywhere they could. There were foods of all sorts and what was amazing was that so many people were there having fun.

Most churchgoers dressed in their beautiful clothes for midnight mass

St Mary’s Cathedral is a famous church founded by a Dutch missionary over one hundred years ago. The missionary tomb is at the entrance of the church, covered with a cement slab with inscriptions. It’s a beautiful cathedral with very high peaks where you can see the bells and the bats flitting around up near the top. The stained glass and statues are incomparable to any in Burma. It’s certainly worth a short visit to anyone interested in the architecture of churches and shrines.

Tomb of the Missionary
One of the many statues

We ran into some friends and hung around outside before venturing into the church. The churchgoers, dressed in their finest clothes, were from every ethnic background one could find in Myanmar.

People from all ethnic groups were there

The midnight mass was over an hour long closer to ninety minutes, and afterward, crowds of people lingered outside eating at the setup stalls. We enjoyed Burmese tea and chatted until around 4 AM at a tea shop, had a variety of snacks and curry.

Don’t drink!
The outside scene was a celebration
Standing room only for the crowd as it was dense and it was extremely humid and hot



Kenneth Wong


I remember going to my first Christmas Fun Fair at the Saint Mary's church as a 9-year-old kid in Rangoon. We lived in Botataung District, a mere 10 minutes' walk from the church. The lights twinkling along the outline of the church tower, the singing, the ball-throwing games that offered stuff animals as rewards — all quite mystical for a boy who grew up in a Chinese Buddhist household. Thanks for reviving those memories with this post!


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