Karen State, Burma
Report Date: 22 December, 2006

Children caroling, three days before being attacked

Karen children caroling

Girls in a Christmas footrace

Nativity play in Karen State

IDPs return to celebrate “Sweet December”

For the Christian Karen, Christmas is a sacred and joyous time. It starts on 1 December with what they call, “Sweet December” and is the beginning of the Christmas season. According to one Karen elder, 76-year-old Maw La of Muthraw District, the Karen celebrate Christmas because, ”Christ came and purchased us; heart and mind, and so saved us. Christmas is done in remembrance of Him. God loves us so much that He sent His son Jesus to save us. Some people killed him, but He rose again and is with us always. We believe and celebrate Christmas for the same reason as other Christians all over the world.”

For the non-Christians, Christmas is also a special time of fellowship and rest after harvest and occurs near the beginning of the Karen New Year. As one Karen man, Saw Htoo Naw said, “For the Christian Karen, Christmas is specially observed. For the non-Christians it is also important as it coincides with harvest and the Karen New Year. It is a traditional time of celebration, meeting together and rest for all the Karen.”

Here in the Northern Karen State where the Burma Army continues the attacks that have already killed 76 civilians and displaced over 25,000 people, the Karen celebrate Christmas. We were invited to celebrate Sweet December in Mon Township in a makeshift church with people who had been on the run for almost all of 2006. They sang together and prayed earnestly- thanking God for the gift of Jesus and for hope in this life and the next. Later as we went to visit displaced people on the border of Toungoo and Papun districts, groups of carolers from the surrounding area came to sing. Only three days later this place was attacked by the Burma Army and the people fled again. Still they continue to organize caroling groups and to conduct worship services.

“Even when we are scattered in the jungle, we still sing songs in Karen like, ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, and songs to celebrate Christ’s coming. The non-Christians also join in and we celebrate together, in the jungle, in the fields, in the hiding places, anywhere.” Poo Taw Mae, a Karen area leader.

Back in a more stable area (last burned down in 1997) the churches have been rebuilt and at one service over 500 people gathered for a Christmas service.” While Christmas day is observed on the 25th, it is also celebrated on other days in December, as villagers choose a central village each year to have a joint Christmas festival. No matter what is happening, the Karen choose to make Christmas a time of sharing of remembrance and of celebration. As a Karenni relief team leader helping the Karen said, ”Even in a difficult time, the people celebrate because we remember our savior. It doesn’t matter what situation we are in, we still celebrate Christ’s coming. I have never heard anyone complaining about Christmas. The people are never tired of being thankful to God and look forward to Christmas each year. A foreigner who is a mother of three and who is here as part of the Good Life Club team, said, “ The Karen people always seem to be thankful, this is great lesson for me. “ For all of us here they shine the light of God’s love and this has not been put out. We thank all of you who stand with these people and all the people of Burma. God bless you and Merry Christmas,

A relief team leader
Northern Karen State
Christmas 2006