In Luang Prabang, just before the town goes crazy with Christmas vacationeers, there is the Hmong New Year festival. This year the Hmong Association bought a large piece of land on the outskirts of town, so now the festival has a permanent home. And this year was my first visit to the festival, or what is known as "raising the mountain". This is the fun after the 3 days of new year celebration within the house, where there are family meals honouring parents and in-laws, cleansing rituals, souls are released and offerings are made to the God of Wealth, amongst other activities.
Previously I had been invited to a family dinner, a celebration not unlike our own Christmas dinner, with the whole gamut of family from babies to elderly and a relaxed evening of eating, drinking, games and conversation. Each November I would be overjoyed at Phousi market by the abundance of Hmong finery for sale; hats of all descriptions, whole outfits protected by plastic, 'pompom-ed' hats galore, and trimmings of fluorescent colours. And with that and the abundant social media posts of the young people in their finery, as well as glimpses of young women on main roads teetering in outrageous heels, this was the closest I got to Hmong New Year, until this year.
A group of us went on the last day, and from the charming smiles amidst the dust on their motorbikes, to the flirtatious glances in the field, it was an uplifting occasion and no one was camera shy. We all felt welcome and caught the infectious warmth of the day.
Playing ball is a big part of Hmong New Year. Traditionally girls played with boys they liked and vice versa, but now they also play amongst themselves. It is a great way to chat and flirt, although the mobile phone gets in the way.
If you are planning a trip to Luang Prabang, December the weather is warm and you may catch Hmong New Year, however dates are often announced late so it is hard to plan, but in Phonsavan they often celebrate earlier so you are likely to catch it somewhere.