Listen & Learn: The Hmong New Year Celebration

For the Hmong community, the new year is a special time in which they honor the fruitfulness of the past year while celebrating the next that is to come. We spoke with Kabao Xiong, President of the Hmong Association of Washington (HAW) to learn more about this sacred celebration.

The Hmong people began as a free and nomadic tribe with origins in the mountains of Laos, China and Thailand. Xiong explains that although they do not have their own country, they have their own spoken and written language. Of the many beautiful and unique aspects of this culture, one of the largest Hmong holidays is the annual Hmong New Year.

“The Hmong New Year Celebration celebrates the end of the year and welcomes the new year ahead,” says Xiong. HAW has held the Hmong New Year Celebration at Seattle Center for over 34 years. Although the festival itself is held in October, the Hmong New Year is generally celebrated at the beginning of each year.

“Traditionally the Hmong New Year is held for 30 days [and is] filled with dancing, eating and entertainment,” explains Xiong.

“The sole purpose of the New Year is to cleanse your spirit away from anything bad that has happened that year, or any bad spirits.”

Photo by George Moua

Traditional foods served during the Hmong New Year include poached chicken tossed with cilantro green onions, salt, and black pepper, rice and a spicy pepper dipping sauce. Xiong shares, “some foods that you may see at [Hmong New Year celebrations in America] include Hmong sausage, papaya salad and sticky rice, to name a few popular dishes.”

Xiong has been a part of the Hmong Association of Washington since 2007, finding involvement in various ways. “I started volunteering after high school in 2007 and I became a part of their youth program, Spiral. I left to college for about 3 years and came back home. I initially just wanted to come back and volunteer with the organization. However, I happened to take position as Vice President in 2015 and 2016. After [serving as the] Vice President, I took the position of President from 2017 to 2018. Being the second Hmong woman to be president for Hmong Association of Washington has been an honor.”

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.  According to Xiong, the celebration has changed throughout the years. “Many of the New Year [celebrations] are now held for only 1 to 3 days. The longest-held New Year here in the United States is in Fresno, CA, which goes on for 7 days. Many Hmong families still hold the traditional ceremony of cleansing bad spirits away.” She also mentions, “over the years and generations, I have seen the food, traditional Hmong clothing, entertainment, music and dancing evolve as the generations have evolved.”

Photo by George Moua

Perhaps the ways in which this holiday is celebrated may have changes and developed over time, but one thing is for sure: the cultural significance of giving thanks to the past and welcoming the future has stayed rooted.

With the Xiong’s leadership, the Hmong Association of Washington (HAW) partners with Seattle Center to organize the yearly Hmong New Year Celebration. In addition to this celebration, HAW provides many opportunities for the Hmong community in Washington while inviting our greater Washington community to learn and celebrate the Hmong culture through year-round cultural and educational services and events.

We wish you a prosperous and healthy Hmong New Year!

To learn more about the Hmong New Year Celebration, please visit HAW’s website here.