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Hmong ring in the new year

Manda Vang and Alan Haney wear traditional clothing sewn by Vang's mother. (Photo by Ivy Vainio)1 / 4
A sign celebrating the new year. (Photo by Ivy Vainio)2 / 4
Dao Vang tosses a ball during the courtship game. (Photo by Ivy Vainio)3 / 4
CherPao Vang of Duluth plays a ximxua, a traditional Hmong instrument similar to a two-string violin at the annual traditional Hmong New Year celebration at First United Methodist Church in Duluth Saturday morning. (Photo by Clint Austin)4 / 4

The Twin Ports Hmong community celebrated its new year Saturday, Dec. 6, in the Lakeview Social Hall at First United Methodist Church. The event included traditional Hmong dress, food and music.

Many of the more than 100 people in attendance wore traditional holiday costumes. The bright colors-on-black costumes feature vests and cummerbunds adorned with rows of dangling coins. Any movements cause the coins to sway together and jingle softly.

The Hmong New Year, a traditional end-of-harvest celebration that coincided with the last full moon in 2014, sounds as much like Christmas as anything else a person might hear this holiday season.

"Not everybody would wear them; only rich people would wear these," said the event's master of ceremonies, CherPao Vang, as he explained the coined costumes. "These are fake ones, though — not silver."

The Hmong community bowed its collective head to remember the passing in 2014 of former University of Minnesota Duluth student, Chue Vang, a local community activist who died at age 36.

The Hmong are an ethnic minority from Laos that fought in a CIA-backed battle against communists during the Vietnam War. After the war, thousands resettled in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Fast facts

• The Hmong fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

• The word "Hmong" means "Free People."

• Nearly half the pre-war Hmong population of Laos died during the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

• The first Hmong arrived in Duluth in 1978

•Traditionally there are no written records. Hmong history has been passed down through legends and ritual ceremonies and embroidered story cloths from one generation to another.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at