Soon Hmong residents will be saying “zoo siab xyoo tshiab” or “happy New Year,” as thousands gather in Fresno for two events filled with food, culture, competitions and people.
The largest Hmong New Year festival in the U.S. will kick off at the Fresno Fairgrounds on Dec. 26, attracting thousands of people from all over the nation. The Hmong International New Year will last through Jan. 1, and feature vendors selling Hmong wares and food.
Several competitions also will take place, including volleyball, flag football and top-spinning. Kato, a game similar to volleyball, but using the feet instead of hands, will also be played. A singing competition and traditional dance competition featuring Hmong, Thai and Lao dancing also is set for the event.
The Miss Hmong International New Year Pageant will crown Miss HINY 2017 after a four-day contest.
The festival comes at the end of a string of celebrations throughout California that began Oct. 8 in Oroville, stretching through November and December in Chico, Stockton, Sacramento, San Diego and Merced. The celebration in Fresno typically brings residents from the Minneapolis area, which has the largest Hmong population in the country.
Fresno and Merced are behind only Sacramento for the highest population of Hmong residents in California.
Charlie Vang, the executive director of the Hmong International New Year Foundation, said he hopes to see a variety of people at the celebration to try out the food, and most important, to get a taste of the culture. “This is for everyone, not just for the Hmong people,” he said.
The festivities on the first day are the most important in terms of tradition, Vang said, but each day has food, entertainment, competitions and vendors that will give others a view into Hmong life.
Less than two miles away from the fairgrounds, a smaller, more traditional open-field celebration will take place at Calwa Park from Dec. 22 through 24.
The Calwa Park celebration will begin with an on-site parade and ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on Thursday, then focus on traditional blessings on the first day, a custom that goes back 1,000 years, said Sara Thao, events director with the United Hmong Council in Fresno.
The festival will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and will be similar to the Hmong International New Year event, with food and competitions.
This is the first year the two celebrations will not have overlapping dates, Thao said. The festivals have taken place on the same days since the smaller one’s inception seven years ago. Thao said it was decided by the United Hmong Council to change it this year.
They expect up to 5,000 people to attend the three-day event this year due to the date change, which is 2,000 more than they usually see, Thao said.
Hmong International New Year
When: Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Fresno Fairgrounds
Cost: $4 for general admission, free for children 6 and younger; 65 and older, guests in wheelchairs; those with military/government ID; Fresno County employees
Hmong New Year at Calwa Park
When: Dec. 22, 10 a.m. Dec. 23-24, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $3 entry, $5 parking