Celebrating Hmong New Year in Merced

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Hmong men line up on the left and women line up on the right for the New Year ribbon cutting ceremony. Women usually wear traditional dress while men wear western clothes. (Photo: Changvang Her)

Hmong men line up on the left and women on the right for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Women usually wear traditional dress while men wear western clothes. (Photo: Changvang Her)

There are many important holidays that the Hmong celebrates, but the Hmong New Year is the main one. Traditionally, the Hmong New Year is divided into three parts: the New Year Feast (Noj Tsab), the New Year Ceremonies (Noj Peb Caug) and The Celebration (Dlha Pob). This is a time for friends and families to gather and share what they have earned throughout the year. In the United States, it's also a time to take a break from the stress many Hmong families have from living as refugees in a foreign land.

The New Year Feast

The New Year Feast, or Noj Tsab, usually occurs around mid-October to early November. During this time, every family prepares a big meal based on what they earned or harvested. If the family earned enough money and crops, they slaughter a bigger pig, but if the family earned less, then they slaughter a smaller pig for the feast. Every members of the family works very hard all year to prepare for this meal. They invite relatives, friend and neighbor. By coming to the Feast, you can tell how well the family had done economically throughout the year. But regardless of financial status, the Hmong look forward to taking a break to enjoy the feast because the New Year Feast is about sharing with those around you.

But the Hmong New Year leads to depression for those who are separated from their family -- like my sister. She was left behind in Laos when we resettled to the U.S. and cries every New Year because she is without her familiy. She says, "Tau ib pluag tsi muaj ib tug neej tsaa tuaj noj," meaning, "I have nobody from my family side come to my New Year Feast." It is sad because she feels like she has nobody to share her accomplishments with her.

The New Year Ceremony

The Celebration includes (starting from the left) money paper for the ancestors, an altar to worship the ancestor, and an altar to worship family fortunes. (Photo: Changvang Her)

The Ceremony includes (starting from the left) money paper for ancestors, an altar to worship ancestors, and an altar to worship family fortunes. (Photo: Changvang Her)

The New Year Ceremony, or Noj Peb Caug, is usually around mid-November. During this time, the Hmong slaughter chickens and cook special dishes to worship their ancestors. We share this meal with our relatives, friends and guests. Rice, tofu with boiled chicken, rice cake with sugar, and some liquor will be served to send away the old year with anything we do not want such as bad luck, sickness, etc., and welcome the new year with blessings.

The Hmong believe that if you worship your ancestors and give respect to the elders, especially during New Year Ceremony, that the new year will help prevent bad things from happening to you, such as sickness and bad luck. The Hmong also thank the old year for everything it provided. Traditionally, the younger ask the elders for their best wishes, and the elders then offer to them.

The Celebration

The Celebration, or Dlha Pob, starts on the second day of the New Year and lasts between four to seven days. But in the United States, Hmongs celebrate during Thanksgiving in some cities and during Christmas in most other cities. It is the time for activities such as bull fights, horse races, soccer, volley ball games, kator, playing the spin top, and a time for the younger Hmong to find their partners.

In addition to Merced, many Hmong families gather in Fresno to celebrate.

In addition to Merced, many Hmong families gather in Fresno to celebrate. (Photo: Changvang Her)

People dress in traditional clothes and engage in chanting, singing, dancing, pageant competitions and many other activities. There are some activities that we cannot practice in the U.S., for example bullfighting and horse racing. The Hmong New Year that we see in the media in the United States is only the Celebration parts. Every Hmong works very hard to accomplishes their goals so they can come to this event. Many people get married right after the New Year Celebration.

The Celebration is a outdoor event. Everybody has a chance to participates in activities to release some stress, especially the elders who mostly stay indoor because they do not know the systems and culture of the U.S.  Though people having lots of fun during the New Year, it is not the same as the celebrations that happen in Laos. In the U.S. you have to drive to the New Year Celebration and have to pay to get in, so many peoples cannot go due to lack of transportation or because they have financial dificulties and can't pay the fee to participate; this is especially true with the elders.

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About Changvang Her

Mr. Changvang Her is a clan leader for the local Her clan. Over the past 30 years, Mr. Her has been actively involved in the Hmong community as a Txiv Tuam Mej Koob, or wedding mediator, for different Hmong clans. He has also been involved with Merced Lao Family and Hmong Her Association as an advisory board member. He is also vice-president for Lao Family Refugee Unification Project, which provides mediation for Hmong families in Merced County. Mr. Her also has been a Community Outreach Liaison for Healthy House’s Partners in Healing Project. He has successfully recruited Hmong shamans to participate in the Western Medical orientation program. Mr. Her facilitates home visits for providers to observe traditional ceremonies and shares information about shaman tools, altars and the cultural meanings of traditional practices. Mr. Her was the first Hmong interpreter and cultural mediator at the Family Practice Residency Program and Golden Valley Health Centers back in 2000. He was the founder of the Hmong support group. Among the many activities he does, Mr. Her is currently a Director of Language Services for Healthy House’s Language Bank and a healthcare interpreter and cultural mediator at the Mercy Medical Center.

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