BUTTE, Mont. - Normally, an afternoon spent in the city cemetery wouldn't be a reason for joy. But the Qingming Festival, or tomb-sweeping ceremony, flips that idea on its head, acting as a sort of celebration to honor Chinese ancestors.

While it's well known that Butte's Irish heritage is integral to the history of the town, the Chinese culture plays an equally important role.

"The Chinese not only helped build Butte and Montana through mining and building railroads, but they also served as an intricate part of that economic and social growth," said Pat Munday of Butte's Mai Wah Society, a group that preserves and celebrates Asian culture and history in the Mining City.

Qingming Festivals in Butte date back to the 1870s, but the current format hosted by the Mai Wah Society has existed for about the last 10 years.

Offerings of food, drink, and joss (fake money) are made to appease the spirits of the dead. Each tombstone is swept clean and garnished with a willow branch, while kites are flown to help bring some happiness to the day.

"The concept of yin and yang summarizes Qingming pretty well," Munday said. "You have the brightness of life right alongside the darkness of death, and they're not separate. They're intricately woven together. And so, at the same time you honor the dead, you also celebrate life."

During the ceremony on Saturday, it rained, which Munday said is actually in accordance with traditional Chinese Qingming celebrations.

The Mai Wah Society also helps to celebrate Butte's Chinese heritage with the yearly Chinese New Year festival, which was held earlier this year in February.


News For You