It seems that every month there’s a public holiday or a festival in accordance with a full moon holding special significance with the Buddhist calendar. In a short vipassana meditation retreat we took recently, we were there on a day where about 30 older ladies in white tops and brown longyis were spending the whole day meditating. We were told they come four times a month in accordance to the phases of the moon. As an aside, a longyi is the Myanmar sarong, but the women wear it in a style similar to the tailored Lao and Thai sinh while the men just have it as a tube that they wrap and tuck (continuously throughout the day). Although it seems that there is a perpetual celebration around full moons, according to the public calendar there are only five full moons that are taken off as holidays and have large festivities. One of these is the Tazaungmone Festival that is nationwide, but in Shan State is also associated with the Balloon Festival mentioned here and here.
I found this description of the Tazaungmone Festival: “This is supposed to be the time when the sky is totally clear and the Tazaungmon Festival is usually held on the fullmoon day. This is usually in November. After the rains the monks would need new robes and on the fullmoon day the offering of new robes for the monks are held. It is called the Kha htein ceremony. The fullmoon day of Tazaungmone is the last day that this ceremony can be held. People light up their houses for this ceremony. One interesting event is that people light candles on all items they use as a sign of paying homage to the guardian nats of that particular item. Also young people try to steal every movable item from any household and set them up at such improbable places as merry pranks on the first night after the fullmoon day. They belief that the “thieves planet” dominate this night and they play this prank on others. Also many older people belief that the herbs and other natural plants posses special potency on the fullmoon night of Tazaungmone and they prepare a special salad of “mezali buds ( Cassia siamea )” to be eaten that night.”
However, what I witnessed was a lot more raucous than described. Since we weren’t staying in anyone’s home, we didn’t see any merry antics of thieving children or candle lighting, and the monastery donations went far above and beyond robes. Citizen groups and businesses form fundraising committees where they then go and buy literally anything the monks might need. As you can see from the photos this included stationary and pens, soaps and detergent, plates and utensils, blankets and towels, large pieces of furniture, straight up cash, etc. The donations are first placed on floats that are led through the town in a parade and then brought to a central collection point. The monasteries then take turns drawing lots to divide the donations, and anything not needed (because there are only so many blankets and dishware sets the community monasteries can absorb after all) is then sold to pay for infrastructure repairs.
I was able to attend the daytime parade in Kalaw and the nighttime parade in Aung Ban. Since Kalaw is about a 15 minute motorcycle taxi ride from Aung Ban and is much more set up for tourists with better internet (the 3-day treks down to Inle Lake start there), I had gone down there to do some work at the Everest Nepali Food Centre (I highly recommend the “dry salad” that is off the menu, but is delicious and is chopped up paratha cooked in gravy, so it’s actually wet). In any case, when I went down there the restaurant was closed and I was told it would reopen after the parade. There was no internet anyway, because the electricity is shut off for the entire city with very good reason. The floats are tall enough, or the electricity lines short enough, or both, that the tops of the floats run into the lines. It’s the same thing with the Aung Ban parade.
However, the floats in Kalaw were more often carried on the shoulders of very drunk people careening down the street while the floats in Aung Ban were mostly put on trucks followed by a procession of very drunk people. The Kalaw floats generally had small groups of musicians playing drums, gongs and cymbals following them, while mostly the Aung Ban floats had techno and discotec music playing with some fancy nighttime party lights. Both parades had really deafening fire crackers and poppers thrown down; always good to watch out to see if your parade viewing neighbors suddenly put their hands to their ears. However, unlike parades in the US that includes lots of audience hooting and hollering and woo-ing, while the parade participants are really throwing down, dancing in the streets, drinking and throwing fire crackers, the audience just stands or sits still silently and watching rather somberly.