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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.