Monday, February 25, 2013


New Year’s Day.  January 1.  By far, New Years is the largest celebration in Burundi. The day is spent indulging in large feasts with traditional drumming and dancing. Many people spend the day in recreation; watching football (or soccer) is also really popular as well as playing the game of mancala. (I just taught my daughter how to play mancala the other day. She was kind of mad I beat her both times.)

Unity Day.  February 5.  About 22 years ago, then President Pierre Buyoya declared this day as Unity Day, in an effort to stymie ethnic hatred with the creation of a new constitution. Over 88% of the people voted for this referendum. Even though some of the violence has diminished, there are still tensions at times. The US still has issues when it comes to this. Maybe we need a Unity Day, too.

Labor Day.  May 1. This is a public holiday where people have the day off in honor of workers.  There are labor parades and discussions regarding labor and strikes around this time.

Ascension.  Varies. For Christians, this is the day they believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. There are special church services on this day that many attend. While it is scheduled for 40 days after Easter (which falls on a Thursday), the Catholic Church has recently moved some of the festivities to the following Sunday as well.

Independence Day.  July 1. This day commemorates Burundi’s independence from Belgium in 1962.  The flag is flown with pride on this day full of festivities, dancing, bands, parades, drummers, street performers and entertainers, music, and lots of food. Because of the country’s violent past, this day is a means to bring people together in the hopes of a peaceful future.

Assumption.  August 15. Many Christians, particularly Catholics, believe that this is the day in which Mary ascended into heaven. It’s considered a feast day in the church. At this time, many people take a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Mugera (in the southernmost part of the country, near the Tanzanian border and Lake Tanganyika).

Rwagasore Day.  October 13.  Named for Prince Louis Rwagasore, one of the Burundi’s national heroes. He was the son of King Mwambutsa IV and was really active in nationalist movements and promoted complete independence for the country. The Belgians were responsible for pitting the different ethnic groups against each other, and in an effort to downplay these ethnic tensions, he married a Hutu woman. He ended up winning 80% of the vote for being named the first Prime Minister; however, he was gunned down in a hotel restaurant about two weeks later.

Ndadaye Day.  October 21. Named after Melchoir Ndadaye. He was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi. Ndadaye won the 1993 election by having about 66% of the vote. Unfortunately, he was assassinated only after three months in office in a failed coup. Some have nicknamed him the “100 Day President.” Ndadaye’s assassination was the spark that led to a decade-long civil war. 

All Saint’s Day.  November 1. This is the Catholic holiday celebrating all the saints, especially those saints who don’t have their own special day already.

Republic Day.  November 28.  While Burundi declared independence in 1962, the nation didn’t actually become a republic until November 28, 1966.  On this day, the First Republic of Burundi was established and lasted for ten years.

Christmas.  December 25. For most Burundian Christians, the bulk of Christmas celebrations starts on Christmas Eve and lasts through Christmas Day. The day is spent in the midst of family and friends, enjoying good food and drink.  Many also attend special church services as well which includes a lot of singing and dancing and can be quite long.

Up next: art and literature. 

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