MERCED COUNTY -- The year’s biggest celebration for people of Hmong descent, the Hmong New Year, begins today and is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the Merced County Fairgrounds.
Visitors can expect to see traditional Hmong clothing covered in jangling coins, dance performances, players of a flutelike instrument called a “qeej” and sellers of traditional cuisine during the three-day celebration that continues through Sunday.
Councilman Noah Lor said Hmong New Year is something he looks forward to every year.
“We only have one celebration a year,” Lor said. “This is the only time we get together.”
Lor said many people come from out of the area and out of the state to take part in the performances and fellowship. He said he expects to see visitors from as far away as North Carolina and Minnesota, as well as several other states.
The event is organized by Merced Lao Family Community Inc.
The celebration has had a home in Merced County for 32 years, according to the group’s website. There are more than 7,000 Hmong in Merced, according to Hmong Studies Journal’s special issue on the 2010 census.
About 2,000 people are expected for today’s opening ceremonies, guest speakers and other officials, Executive Director Houa Vang said. The gate opens earlier, but the programs each day begin at 10 a.m., he said.
Vang said he expects attendance to jump up to 5,000 on both Saturday and Sunday.
Vang said Hmong New Year is the most important time of year for many people of Hmong descent. Any other fetes during the year are dwarfed by the celebration.
“The new year is the huge one for the Hmong,” Vang said.
Cultural dance and talent shows begin Saturday at 10 a.m., as well as the annual beauty pageant. Vang said the competitions continue through the afternoon.
Saturday night takes on a party atmosphere when locals welcome their out-of-town visitors, Vang said.
The competitions culminate Sunday.
Other activities pepper all three days, such as soccer and volleyball, as well as more traditional games. Planned are “kator,” a game involving a net and a woven wooden ball, and “tuj lub,” where players try to knock over competitors’ spinning tops.
“Pov pob” will also be on display throughout the weekend. The cultural tradition is a way for young men and women to interact by throwing a ball back and forth.
There is a $3 fee to enter the fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209)385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.