Thanksgiving; The neglected holiday

Thanksgiving.  Oh, yes—the holiday that marks the start of European colonists invading and exterminating thousands of indigenous people in America.  Children are taught in schools that Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks and appreciation—like how the Pilgrims thanked the Native Americans for helping them survive their first harsh winter by inviting them to a feast with turkey, mashed potatoes, and pies.

To many Hmong families today—mine included—Thanksgiving is a time, not necessarily to show appreciation, but for friends and families to get together, cook, and eat.  Thanksgiving falls right around the time Hmong families would be having their peb caug feasts.  So, we cook both “Thanksgiving” food and traditional new year food and celebrate peb caug on or around Thanksgiving.

I have always pitied Thanksgiving.  Poor holiday.  It can’t help that its origin consisted of destructive pillages and bloody massacres of Native Americans.   It can’t help that school officials refuse to discuss its true history to their students. I know that if it was up to Thanksgiving, it will be true to itself and not lie about its origin.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s because of Thanksgiving’s history that Corporate America tends to neglect it and skip right from Halloween to Christmas.  But then I remember that Corporate America is greed and greed doesn’t have a conscience.

Every year, I am saddened to see Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments (instead of Thanksgiving) replace Halloween decorations and costumes in stores.  This year, I was very surprised to see Christmas stuff being sold in mid-October and Halloween wasn’t even over yet!  (Or maybe it has been happening for years and I’ve just never noticed).  Christmas is starting earlier and earlier each year, while Thanksgiving is pushed into a small dusty corner in all major department stores.

Thanksgiving is like the middle child of Corporate America—born in the middle, not given much attention to.  Why? Because Corporate America cannot make as much money from it as it would from its counter-holidays: Halloween and especially Christmas.  What is there to sell during Thanksgiving besides food?  For Halloween, there is candy, costumes, make up, and decorations—and these things are not cheap—especially for those who go all out during this holiday.  For Christmas, you have Christmas trees (plastic and fresh pine), ornaments, lights, decorations, and—most expensively of all—presents.  Don’t forget the Christmas outdoor decoration battles that neighbors have each year (Christmas Tree Lane).  This is why, Christmas overshadows Thanksgiving (and other holidays as well) all the time.

It also doesn’t help Thanksgiving much that Black Friday is right there with it as well. Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, some families are getting ready for a cold night of camping out to (literally) fight the crowds for Black Friday deals.

Even if it is neglected by many out there, I will always remember Thanksgiving. Not because of its horrible history, but because, every time it comes around, I am reminded that Hmong New Year is just around the corner.  To me, Thanksgiving and Hmong New Year go hand in hand (yes, in a very weird way).

Hmong New Year (Noj Peb Caug)

As one of my previous blogs stated, it is Hmong New Year.   And I want to clear up some misconceptions of Hmong New Year.  My blog “Hmong Mating Season” was a joke.  The tradition of Hmong New Year has changed its form over the past decades in America that it has become a “season.”  That is why I dubbed it “Hmong Mating Season.”

Very similar to the corporate transformation of many US holidays (Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween, Easter), Hmong leaders and organizations have turned Hmong New Year into a more secular “corporate” holiday.  Sometimes the cynical MB believes it is to compete with other Hmong leaders/organizations to say, “Hey, we can make it bigger and better than you.”  Traditionally, new year festivals were celebrated at different times so people from other communities can attend. However, with the recent internal political problems some Hmong new year organizations are having, I am thinking otherwise.

The main misconception by many people, is that Hmong New Year consists only of the festivities we see each year: dressing up in colorful outfits, tossing balls, bull fighting (in certain regions), meeting people of the opposite gender, etc.  This is not the actual New Year.  This is the celebration at the end of the New Year.

The tradition of Hmong New Year does start at the end of the rice harvest, during the last lunar month of the year.  (Hmong people follow the lunar calendar.   The word for “month” in Hmong is “moon.”  Ib hlis = one moon = one month).   This is a time to give thanks to the gods and ancestors for a good harvest and good health in the past year and to welcome the new year with more wealth and riches.

In-house rituals are performed, such has “hu plig,” “txi xwm kab,” and “noj peb caug.”   There are many other rituals as well.   However, in the average Hmong household, these are the main ones.

Roosters are used for the “Hu Plig” and “Txi Xwm Kab” rituals.

“Hu Plig” (Calling Spirit) is the Hmong traditional ritual of calling home all the wandering spirits of the household.  A shaman usually does this.  But I have seen the head of the household (a husband/father/grandfather, or if the paternal head of household is absent, the mother/grandmother) do this ritual.

“Txi Xwm Kab” is the ritual of honoring the God of Wealth and Riches.  A new shrine or altar for the God of Wealth is made and goods are offered so that he shall bring forth a new year full of wealth.

“Noj Peb Caug” or “Peb Caug” is the Hmong word for “New Year.”  Literal translation is “Eat Thirty” or the shorter version, “Thirty.”   Hmong people celebrate their new year for 3 consecutive days.  Keep in mind that this is not the festival celebration.  This is an in-home celebration where you can invite extended family members or Hmong people of your community.  During the New Year, 10 dishes are served each day, thus the meaning behind “Noj Peb Caug,” or “Eat Thirty.”   Also during these three days, family members fast from spending money. If you keep the money in your pocket during New Year, you will gain more in the next year.

Then after the Hmong New Year ends, the festival fun starts.  The festivities are what everyone look forward to each year.  And this is what everyone sees and believes Hmong New Year is about despite it being only a tiny part of the New Year.

Keep in mind that some of these religious traditional rituals may be different to each Hmong family.  Different Hmong people in different regions celebrate New Year differently.   And with the change of time, traditions change as well.  For example, I have yet to see a family eat 30 dishes during the 3 days of New Year.

May the new year bring you lots of riches and good health.  Nyob zoo xyoo tshiab!

Hmong mating season!

It’s that time of the year!  It is Hmong Mating Season!  Don’t know what it is?  Well, stay tune and you’ll find out.

The Hmong are found all over the world, from the US to Canada, SE Asia to China, Australia, France, and Argentina.  Back in the old country, Hmong Mating Season starts after the harvest.  This is a time of rest after a whole year of working hard in the rice fields.  And because Hmong people are so busy during the year that they don’t have time to find a mate until after the harvest.

Woman harvesting rice.

Hmong Mating Season in California starts in October and ends on the first of January.  This is a time when all the single Hmong males and females flock to the mating grounds to seek their mate.  Single young girls and guys.  Runaway brides and grooms.  Divorcees.  Widows and widowers.  Even married people (mainly males) who thrive on the excitement of extramarital affairs!

These single Hmong males and females come in a display of colorful costumes.  It really is a remarkable sight!  They dress in their best to impress potential mates.  Females dress in an array of bright pinks, greens, reds, oranges, whites, and blacks.  Some wearing ornaments on their heads to go along with their bright colorful clothing.  Males dress in clothes less vibrant than the females, but still as appealing.

The females perform a ritual to show the males that they are open for mating.  This ritual is called ball tossing.  Two or three females will gather, stand about 4-5 feet away from each other and toss a ball back and forth.  Back in the old country, they use a ball made out of cloth.  Here in the US, the ball tossing ritual is performed with a tennis ball.

To show his interest in a female, a male Hmong will walk up to the female and ask her permission to toss ball with her.  If she likes the male, she’ll accept his request.  Most of the time, because the female Hmong feels she has no choice in the matter, she’ll passively say yes when she really wants to say no.  If she has friends, the male will toss ball with her friends too.

This ball tossing ritual dates back to the early Hmong times.  The ball represents the relationship of a couple.  Questions are asked and answered back and for (hence the ball goes back and forth).  During this time, the male and female get to know each other.   The farther they are from the each other, the less they talk unless they want to yell at each other.  Some people like to do the ritual two feet away from each other, so they can actually get to know the person across from them.

Men flock around this woman to get to know her more and to get contact info.

While the male is busy with the female Hmong, there may be other interested males standing by.   Instead of joining in on the ball tossing ritual, they will simply surround her and carry out what is called the “Ear Whisper.”  In this Ear Whisper, they whisper soft sweet nothings in her ears, such as “Koj niam thiab koj txiv noj dab tsi cas yug tau koj zoo nkauj ntxim hlub ntxim nyiam ua luaj li os me nkauj Hmoob es (What did your parents eat because they gave birth to a girl so adorable and beautiful like you, Miss Hmong)?”  She’ll giggle because it’s the biggest form of compliment anyone can give her and the female Hmong usually gets distracted from the male tossing ball with her.

If wearing colorful clothing and tossing ball does not attract potential mates, the females use their mating call. This mating call is called Kwv Txhiaj.  Kwv Txhiaj is genre of traditional Hmong chanting folk songs.   The kwv txhiaj sung mostly at the mating grounds are songs of mating, courtship, and relationships.

For the Hmong who come to the mating grounds with their mate, instead of tossing balls the traditional way, they may participate in a ball tossing game similar to the game of Strip Poker.  [Oh yes!]  The male and female stand 5-6 feet or farther from each other and toss the ball as fast and hard as they can.  If the person on the other end cannot catch it, that person has to give an article of clothing or piece of jewelry to the person who threw the ball.  All possessions are returned at the end of the game, of course.

Not all Hmong single people who are searching for a mate will find one at the mating grounds during the Hmong Mating Season.  Those who don’t have such luck will only try again the next year.

Interesting, isn’t it?  I hope you guys like it.

But on a more serious note, there is no such thing as Hmong Mating Season.  No such thing.   If you’re Hmong, you probably understood where I was going with this blog.  For those of you who don’t know, I’ll explain.

It is actually the time of the year when Hmong people celebrate their new years.  [Yay!]  From October to January 1, counties and cities across California will celebrate Hmong New Year.   Chico and Oroville Hmong New Year takes place in October.  They have already passed.  I know that Sacramento and Stockton celebrate theirs in November.  Merced and Fresno, in December.  And all other cities’ celebrations are spread in between.

One major aspect of Hmong New Year is courtship and the adolescents and young adults look forward to this.  You dress in your new year best, toss ball, sing kwv txhiaj (if you know how to), get to know strangers of the opposite sex, which then could lead to a relationship.   If you have strict parents who won’t allow you to date, this may be the only time that they allow you to kind of date while at the Hmong New Year.  And whatever happens from then happens, I guess.  My mom was one of those strict parents.  I could talk to guys at the New Year, but I wasn’t allowed to at home.

If you’re wondering, there is more to Hmong New Year than just courtship.  There are beauty pageants, dance and singing competitions, performances by local Hmong bands and artists, traditional Hmong dance performed by youth groups, food, booths that sell Hmong clothes, music, and movies, concerts, and a lot more.   Oh, and you can’t forget gangsters who disrupt Hmong New Year by fighting each other.  So, if you hear about a Hmong New Year being celebrated in your area, go and join them.  You don’t have to be Hmong to go to Hmong New Year, although you may need cash for parking, admission, food, and whatever else you may want to buy.   And maybe you’ll learn something about the Hmong culture while you’re there.

Have fun and please stay safe at whatever Hmong New Year you’re planning on going to!

The problem with Hmong New Years

It’s Hmong New Year season.  I call it a “season” because Hmong New Year starts in mid-October to the first week of January.  I guess, you can say that it’s like the county fairs where every county has its own fair.  Every county (provided that the Hmong community has money) hosts a new year.

I wonder why we all just can’t have one new year.  It’s ridiculous to have several new years through the year.

Sacramento used to only celebrate once during the year.  Now they celebrate  it twice.  Rumors has it that the Hmong community leaders had a big argument about money and split up.  So, now Sacramento county has two new years (celebrated at Cal Expo and the Gibson Ranch), a week apart from each other.

I don’t understand why people just can’t compromise.  It makes us Hmong people look bad.  Hmoob tsis txawj hlub Hmoob kiag li.

A non-Hmong friend of mine asked me why we have more than one new year.  I couldn’t answer her.  My reply was, “Maybe it’s because we want to visit each other’s new years?”  But what’s the point when all the new years are basically the same?