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  • Tia Thao & Mai Seng Thao

Hmong New Year

(Photo by Mai Seng Thao)

Hello Woodland Community,

We would like to express honor to the Madison Hmong community. By acknowledging the Hmong New Year on November 29-30. Below you will find a beautiful explanation written by Tia Thao and Mai Thao sharing the ways the Hmong culture celebrates the Hmong New Year.

Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tshiab! Happy New Year!

Traditionally, most Hmong people live in rural mountains and there, it is a very different lifestyle where we use the lunar phases and a twelve month calendar consisting of 29 or 30 days a month, to determine the time frame of farming.

The Hmong New Year is probably our only true "holiday," our traditional religion does not have specified holy days. So, the new year is a pretty big deal.

When the Hmong noj peb caug (naw peh chao; literally translates to “eat thirty”) we are celebrating the culmination of a year. We celebrate on the 30th day of the twelfth month of the Hmong calendar year by sending the old year to rest and welcoming the new year. The Hmong people observe the New Year for three days. The initial day consists of a spirit calling, hu plig (hu plee), to call your wandering spirit home and inviting good fortune for the new year. The home on this day is swept by a holy branch to cleanse it and send off any bad omen, illnesses, etc. Any household items such as furniture that have contributed to the well-being of the year (i.e. your stove that helped you cook all year round) are thanked by being decorated with money, cut from joss paper.

Following the spirit calling, a meal is set as an offering for ancestors often with the eldest kin reciting words of invitation to enjoy the meal and watch over the family in the new year. The sky and land, and the moon and sun, are also called upon, honored, and given an offering from the ancestral meal and poured a drink. On the third and final day, fresh rice is steamed and pounded into a flat mochi cake and is used in an offering to the ancestors. The elder kin again recites an invitation to the ancestors, asks for blessings and to be watched over for the new year and lets them know it is the third and final day of the new year offerings.

During the three days, people refrain from spending money and use time to rest after ritual practices. After these three days, the community comes together in what traditionally used to be a week long festival (this is what people often think of when referring to the Hmong New Year).

(Photo by Mai Seng Thao)

In the past, what was also different was that each village had their own time during this week to celebrate. It was highly encouraged for Hmong people to use this time to travel to each other's village and help celebrate, so "villages" (now different cities in the US) have different dates to celebrate the new year as a community. Due to not having a nationally recognized holiday(s) for the Hmong New Year here in the United States, Madison has annually chosen Thanksgiving break to allow its Hmong community to host the Hmong New Year Festival. Cities with large Hmong population therefore, choose to host their Hmong New Year festival at different times. For example, this past weekend, Eau Claire, Wisconsin (which has a large Hmong community) already had their new year celebration. Sacramento and Fresno, California will have theirs November 28th - December 1st due to the milder winter, allowing for a more traditional week long celebration.

Check out this video of a short and sweet overview of the Hmong New Year Festival (make sure to choose HD in the setting for better quality)

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