Thousands of people from around the country will descend upon St. Paul’s vast downtown RiverCentre complex this weekend for the 36th annual Hmong New Year celebration. A significant majority of the more than 66,000 Hmong Americans who call Minnesota home live in the Twin Cities, making ours the largest urban Hmong population in the world. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis host their own iteration of the popular celebration in the late fall.
The St. Paul version of the Hmong New Year festival is more than 35 years old, established and run by the Lao Family Community. Their New Year’s celebration is a day rich with Southeast Asian culture and pageantry. Decked out in the vivid hues, bells and lavish textures of traditional Hmong garb, generations of families gather to celebrate both new and old traditions.
Against a backdrop of festive song and dance performances, you can watch an old-country courtship ritual-cum-ball toss flirtation among the community’s youth, or see lovely contestants vie for the coveted “Miss Hmong Minnesota” title. Browse through the cacophonous marketplace, where you can pick up anything from a huge bowl of pho to herbal medicines to videos and CDs of the latest hits from Thailand.
After all these years, St. Paul’s annual Hmong New Year celebration feels as Minnesotan as the State Fair or tater tot hot dish. If you’re in the cities and haven’t yet been, you’ll see: it’s a piquant, family friendly break from the usual, post-Thanksgiving, consumer-driven hubbub of this holiday weekend.
The 31st Annual Minnesota Hmong New Year celebration takes place Nov. 25, 26 and 27, 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day, at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, Minn. 175 W. Kellogg Blvd. Advance tickets are $5; $6 at the door (cash only). Children under 3 and seniors get in free.