The Hmong New Year celebration is a cultural tradition that takes place annually in select areas where large Hmong communities exist and in a modified form where smaller communities come together. During the New Year's celebration, Hmong dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment. Hmong New Year celebrations have Hmong ethnic traditions and culture and may also serve to educate those who have an interest in Hmong tradition. Hmong New Year celebrations frequently occur in November and December (traditionally at the end of the harvest season when all work is done), serving as a Thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people.

Hmong Story & History

Hmong people are certainly one of the most distinguished ethnic groups in Laos. However, their story is about the difficulty of being a minor ethnic group in a country mainly inhabited by Lao. There is a reoccurring theme throughout Hmong oral literature that describes an orphan who overcomes harassment through hard work and becomes a leader. Similarly, classical Hmong songs that are sung aloud also recount a tale of a child without parents who triumphs in the end. This theme of an orphan stands as a powerful symbol for the Hmong people themselves – who are left without a country to call their own but survive wherever they go. This visual story aims to contribute to a greater understanding of the Hmong people in order to help preserve their distinct history, fascinating rituals, and unique traditions.

The earliest written history about the Hmong people reveal that they originated from China around the third century BCE. There were many written accounts of the Hmong uprising against the Chinese State, which often referred to them as barbarians. Upon fleeing Chinese rule, many Hmong began migrating down into Laos at the beginning of the 19th century.

During the French rule of Indochina, Hmong guerrillas found themselves fighting for both the Japanese and the French during World War II. After the defeat of the French in 1954, many Hmong were secretly recruited by the CIA to help fight alongside the United States against communism during the 1960s and 1970s. It is estimated that about 30,000 Hmong soldiers lost their lives during the Vietnam War – 10% of their entire population. This led to many Hmong fleeing Laos into neighboring countries in the Southeast Asian region in fear of persecution. Some have also relocated to the United States as refugees, where they strive to uphold their traditions, beliefs, and practices for future generations to come.

H’Mong New Year Legends

Historically, the Hmong New Year celebration was created to give thanks to ancestors and spirits as well as to welcome in a new beginning. It is also a time of the year where Hmong people gather with family and meet with relatives from other regions. Traditionally, the celebration lasts for ten days, has been shortened in America due to the difference between the traditional Hmong farming schedule and that of the American 40-hr work week schedule. It has also served the double purpose of a convenient meeting place and time for the Hmong leadership, from the days of China even until now.

H’ Mong New Year Rituals & Traditions

During the Hmong New Year celebration, the Hmong ball tossing game pov pob is a common activity for adolescents. Boys and girls form two separate lines in pairs that are directly facing one another. Girls can ball toss with other girls or boys, but boys cannot ball toss with other boys. It is also taboo to toss the ball to someone of the same clan and date the same clan. The pairs toss a cloth ball back and forth, until one member drops the ball. If a player drops or misses the ball, an ornament or item is given to the opposite player in the pair. Ornaments are recovered by singing love songs (hais kwv txhiaj) to the opposite player. But in recent times, in such areas as China, the young lovers have been seen to carry tape players to play their favorite love songs for one another.

The Hmong New Year celebration—specifically based on both religious and cultural beliefs—is an “in-house” ritual that takes place annually in every Hmong household. The celebration is to acknowledge the completion of the rice-harvesting season—thus, the beginning of a new year—so that a new life can begin as the cycle of life continues. During this celebration, every "wandering" soul of every family member is called back to unite with the family again and the young will honor the old or the in-laws—a ritual of asking for blessings from elders of the house and clan as well as the in-laws of other clans.

Also, during the Hmong New Year celebration, house spirits as well as the spirit of wealth (xwm kab) are honored. In addition, if a shaman is in the house, the healing spirits of She-Yee are also honored and released to wander the land (Neeb Foob Yeem)—similar to vacationing after a long year of working—until they are called back right after new year. Hmong New Year lasts only for 3 days—with 10 dishes of food each day, for a total of 30 dishes—thus the Hmong saying “eat 30.” Here are a few practices that the Hmong observe during their New Year Celebration, performed anytime during the 3 days of celebration.

  • Hu Plig (Soul Calling) - Calling back every soul in the family to unite with the family
  • Txi Xwm Kab (Honoring Xwm Kab) - Offerings to the God of Wealth
  • Neeb Foob Yeem/Neeb Tso Qhua - Shamanistic Ritual to release the Curing spirits of She-Yee for “vacationing"—occurs only if the specific family has a shaman in the house
  • Noj peb caug (Eat 30) - The main meal of New year
  • Pe Tsiab (Asking for Blessings from Elders) - Occurred early morning during New Year’s day, including parents, uncles, father/moth-in-law, and dead ancestors
  • Ntxuav Kauv Laug (Cleaning the Body) - To cleanse the body of dirtiness
  • Ntuag Qhauv - A ritual to get rid of problems, issues, temper, loneliness, and all the bad things which have occurred in the household
  • Lwm Qaib/Sub - Using a chicken, a ritual also
  • Tog Neej Tsa Tuaj Noj Tsiab - Request special guests (such as father in law, son in law etc.) to come “eat Tsiab,” a very big “eat 30”.
  • Xa Noob Ncoos/Tsoog Laug - A very special “thanksgiving” event where parents and in-laws are honored
  • Tam Noob Ncoos - A thank you feast from parents and in-laws
  • Tso Plig - To release the souls of all dead ones
  • Noj Tsiab (eat tsiab) - a very big “eat 30,” involving pigs, cows, and buffalo.

The list above is what a Hmong New Year is. All these things take place for only 3 days. After all these things are done, then the “outside” fun begins, which has nothing to do with Hmong New Year. In the United States, people refer to the “outside” event as “new year”—but this is a misconception. Hmong New Year occurs in-house, and whatever occurs outside after the “new year” is called “Tsa Hauv Toj”—meaning “raising the mountain.” This is the tradition where Hmong toss balls and sing “kwv txhiaj.”

During the Tsa Hauv Toj celebration, Hmong dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment. Hmong New Year celebrations preserve Hmong ethnic traditions and culture and may also serve to educate those who are interested in Hmong tradition. Hmong New Year celebrations occurred anytime within or close to the end of the harvesting period give or take a few days. However, the Tsa Hauv Toj event is based on lunar calendar, typically in November and December (which would consider a month ahead of western calendar).

Things to do & see

Travelers should plan their trip around it so encounter some of its most interesting celebrations and rituals.

Here are some of the things you can experience during the festival.

It starts at home

The Hmong New Year actually begins in people’s homes as families visit each other for blessings and good fortune. As part of their culture and belief in animism, they also take part in rituals that connect with the spirits of their departed family members. This is a way for them to reunite the family and also bless the house. 

While it is rare for tourists to observe this, you can always reach out to locals and ask. The Hmong people are kindhearted and will certainly want to make you feel at home and join their festivities. 

A vibrant event

While the Hmong people are recognized by their vibrant, traditional clothing, the Hmong new year gives them a reason to outdo themselves. Each village and individual work tirelessly in designing the most elaborate clothing including head-wear and jewelry. The new year is a chance for people of Hmong to showcase their unique identity. To witness this in person is truly a momentous occasion.

Visit lively carnivals

Forget touristic sites and parades, if you really want an immersive experience, the first step in figuring out what to do or see during Hmong New Year in Laos is to simply follow the local crowds in traditional dresses. This will lead you to a carnival of sorts where the Hmong people celebrate the day by playing games, singing, music, dancing and gambling. In some parts of Laos, you can even observe bull fighting. 
Of course, food is a big part as well with dozens of vendors selling local delicacies. Take in the sensational aromas of grilled meat, garlic and lemongrass as you walk around observing the culture.

Witness Hmong-style matchmaking ceremony

The Hmong courtship ritual known as pov pob is another important part of the New Year celebration. It starts with young men and women standing across each other in a line, smiling and giggling before tossing cloth balls back and forth. This is a way for them to get to know each other and possibly find their future partner. It is not put on as a show for tourists. This is an authentic ritual during the Hmong New Year.

Where can you join the H’Mong New Year?

Traditionally, the Hmong New Year was initially celebrated in Laos, China and Thailand, but through generations of movement and immigration, the New Year has continued as an important cultural holiday for Hmong communities worldwide.  

That said, the best place to join H’Mong New Year is in Laos, especially in the countryside of Luang Prabang, or Ban Lak Hasip Soong (52Km from Vientiane on the way to Vang Vieng).

You can either join the new year in some other provinces in northern Laos, Vietnam, or Thailand. 

If you cannot make it to Southeast Asia, there are some cities in USA also organizing this event, but the best place you can join the festival is in Fresno, California. Here is their website.

H'Mong New Year Photos

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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