How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in Style
Enjoy a family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration in Champaign-Urbana
We might not have parade floats or a French Quarter in Champaign-Urbana, but we can still celebrate Mardi Gras in style! In 2021, celebration of Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” falls on Feb. 16.
Beads: You need plenty of beads to toss to little ones. (Just keep the tossin’ tame.) The traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold date from the late 1800’s; they were used in New Orleans in parades put on by some of the same social clubs (or krewes) that are still active there today.
Dollar Stores (Champaign/Urbana/Savoy): A great source of cheap decorations for any party or event, including beads.
Party City (Champaign): Beads, masks, feather boas, and more fun trinkets for Mardi Gras can be found at Party City — they will even sell you tiny plastic babies! A quick glance at all the green on their shelves will reveal that St. Patrick’s Day is more of a local moneymaker (hello, Unofficial) but fear not, your Mardi Gras needs can still be met here.
King Cake: This Mardi Gras delicacy is a simple cake, but delicious in its simplicity; try a recipe here or here. The King Cake is made round to represent a crown. (Oh, and it also has a tiny little plastic baby baked inside, so there’s that.) Decorate with green, yellow, and purple icing or sprinkles, stuff a tiny plastic baby inside, and voilà — King Cake.
If you can’t find a tiny plastic baby, you can also use a bean, a pecan half, or a coin. The coin makes me a little nervous; I’m all tiny baby or bust in my King Cake. Just make sure you don’t swallow the baby!
The person who finds the baby, bean, or coin is the “King” of the celebration. We make this paper jester hat before we serve our King Cake, and whoever finds the baby gets to wear the hat! Tradition dictates that the “King” must also host the next party, but good luck with that if your King is also your minor child.
Our readers tell us you can buy King Cake at Rick’s Bakery in Urbana, at Pekara (“large or small!”) in Champaign on Springfield, at Central Illinois Bakehouse (order through Market Wagon and they will deliver to your door!), and at Schnucks stores. Our recommendation: call ahead to order or reserve yours.
You have some options if you require more sustenance for your celebration. Industrial Donut in Savoy can turn any holiday into a donut party — check out their extra sparkly Mardi Gras donuts, available for pre-order by the half-dozen. Esquire Lounge in Champaign has prepared a special Mardi Gras take-out menu for Feb. 16, featuring Louisiana gumbo, Creole pizza, beignets, and — ahem — hurricane growlers. Michael’s Catering will deliver a Mardi Gras feast to you for $20 (+ tax) per person featuring “alligator, shrimp, or vegetable étouffée”!
Not sure about King Cake, but pining for paczki instead? Here’s where to find paczki in Champaign-Urbana.
Celebrate: You’ve stocked up on beads. You’ve located a tiny plastic baby and baked/bought/put copious multicolored sprinkles on a King Cake. Now grab some pots for drums, add a whistle if you can find it, and make your own impromptu parade around the house. No one to catch all the beads you want to throw? Line up an audience of plush toys to take in your revelry. Bonus: No tears when the beads accidentally whack Old Nutty the Panda in the face!
Not in 2021
The Luso Brazilian Association at the University of Illinois traditionally holds a FREE Brazilian Carnaval celebration at the University YMCA with live music, costumes, and food. We look forward to when such large in-person gatherings can happen again.
Are there other local and family-friendly Mardi Gras celebrations we’ve missed? Email us and let us know!