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 2023, celebration of Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” falls on Feb. 21.
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 — the store will even sell you tiny plastic babies! A quick glance at all the green on its shelves will reveal that St. Patrick’s Day is more of a local party moneymaker (even if Unofficial has waned in recent years) 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 us a little nervous; we’re all tiny baby or bust in our 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.
You’ve got several local options for purchasing King Cakes. Our recommendation: call ahead to order or reserve your King Cake at all of these establishments.
- Rick’s Bakery, Urbana
- Central Illinois Bakehouse (sold at Pekara and Martinelli’s Market in Champaign, at the Champaign-Urbana Winter Farmers Markets in Urbana on Saturdays, or online through Market Wagon),
- Lucky Moon Pies & More, Mahomet
- RegCakes, Urbana, for gluten-free King Cake
You have only to look around C-U’s vibrant restaurant scene if you require more sustenance for your celebration. Industrial Donut in Savoy can turn any holiday into a donut party — see if its extra-sparkly Mardi Gras donuts are available for pre-order (by the dozen) this year. Champaign’s Pandamonium Doughnuts plans to offer lemony-flavored Mardi Gras doughnuts, but only on the weekend of Feb. 18-19. Esquire Lounge in Champaign usually puts on a rockin’ Mardi Gras celebration with all-day New Orleans food and drink specials — this year promising live Dixieland Jazz!
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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 2023
Pre-pandemic, the Luso Brazilian Association at the University of Illinois has traditionally held a free Brazilian Carnaval celebration at the University YMCA with live music, costumes, and food. We look forward to when it happens again.
Mardi Gras Events in Champaign-Urbana
6:00 pm - 8:30 pm
at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana Illinois
Carnaval! is a party celebrating the end of the holiday season before the introspection of Lent begins, culminating in Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday.” Lyric Theatre @ Illinois will celebrate Spanish and Portugese South America with music, dancing, and revelry. Carnaval! is a concert celebrating music and dance from...Read More
Are there local and family-friendly Mardi Gras celebrations we’ve missed? Email us and let us know!
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