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Butte welcomes the Year of the Pig

Gracie Speece, 10, and Marlene Zhou, 17, lead the dragon through the streets of Uptown Butte by carrying a pearl on a stick Saturday along Main Street in Uptown Butte.

It never quite made it above zero in Butte on Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, but that didn't stop a large crowd from gathering at the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse to take part in the Mai Wah Society's annual Chinese New Year Parade and celebrate the onset of the Year of the Pig.

Leading the charge were Marlene Zhou, 17, and Gracie Speece, 10, who danced with a golden pearl about the size of a soccer ball that was mounted on a stick.

Right behind them was a long, ornate, and also golden dragon, held aloft and moved rhythmically by Zhou's fellow members of the Butte High School History Club.

"The dragon chases the pearl and brings all sorts of luck with it," Zhou explained.

Behind the dragon was a large group of locals in various states of being extremely bundled up.

It's true that as the parade wended its way through the streets of Uptown, stopping to bless its numerous business sponsors, the number of participants steadily dwindled due to the extreme cold. But despite the attrition, the fervor of the crowd persisted.

Firecrackers were set in alleys and parking lots. Pots and pans were banged. A cymbal kept being struck.

And when one man's whistle froze and stopped working, he pulled out a back-up horn and started blowing.

According to Chris Fisk, one of the Butte High History Club advisers who helped organize the parade, that undaunted enthusiasm is at the heart of not only the event but also of the Mining City more broadly.

"It adds more color to Butte," Fisk said. "It kind of makes Butte what it is."

Fisk said that he, his students, and his fellow advisers view it as an "honor" to bring one facet of Butte's rich ethnic past "back to life."

The roots of Butte's once-substantial Chinese community can be traced to the mid-19th century. And for almost 100 years, a thriving Chinatown existed along Mercury and Galena streets. Most of Butte's Chinese had dispersed by the end of the Second World War, but elements still remain, including the two buildings that once housed a mercantile, a noodle parlor, a boarding house, and a family’s home — and that now serve as the Mai Wah Museum.

That's where the parade ended after almost an hour, with snacks that attendees were largely too cold to eat.

For Fisk, braving the elements was worth it. After all, he said, "History is better lived than read about."

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