Parade of Lights to spark holiday celebration in C-U


Photo courtesy of Darrell Hoemann

A float representing the Polar Express goes through Downtown Champaign at the 2018 Parade of Lights on Nov. 24, 2018.

By A. Oishii Basu, Staff Writer

Saturday marks the 22nd annual Parade of Lights, presented by Champaign Center Partnership and Christie Clinic, kicking off a holiday season full of festivities. 

Champaign Center Partnership is a  nonprofit business association and placemaking organization located in downtown Champaign. The Parade of Lights began in 2001, managed by the Champaign Park District.

Xander Hazel, executive director of Champaign Center Partnership, said the event was passed onto the placemaking organization and maintained by them for the last 10 years. This year, they are honoring Joe Deluce, longtime executive director of Champaign Park District as Parade Grand Marshall.

The Christie Clinic, a large medical clinic in Champaign, has been the title sponsor for the event for the last few years. One of the largest employers in the area, the event often brings in a lot of shoppers.

He said he loves to hear that the parade has become a local tradition.

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 “One of my favorite things is hearing stories from folks who attended it when they were a kid back in the early 2000s and now bring their children to it,” Hazel said. “It’s really a special story.” 

Taking place on Small Business Saturday, the event, like many others put on by Champaign Center Partnership, is meant to bring foot traffic to shops in downtown Champaign.

“Small Business Saturday is specifically about supporting small businesses and encouraging people to shop at small businesses during the holiday season.” Hazel said.

Hazel added that the parade brings about five thousand people to downtown Champaign each year, for a succession of illuminated floats, a 30-foot tree lighting ceremony, horse carriage rides and more.

“We try to make (the commercial districts) places for everybody, basically …” Hazel said. “We do a lot of events including the Parade of Lights that brings people to these districts and hopefully they stay and engage with the businesses that are operating here.” 

Hazel said the holiday celebration creates a lot of commerce for small businesses in the area. 

“I was actually talking to the owner of the Literary …” Hazel said. “They usually do five to 10 hot chocolate sales a day and during the parade they did well over a hundred sales in one to two hours.”

He said the parade couldn’t be possible without the committee members who organize it. Built up of community and Champaign Center Partnership employees, they work on the logistics and decided on this year’s theme “The Island of Misfit Toys.”

He said the themes are chosen so that vendors can easily emulate them and create a family friendly environment. 

Hazel said, “We chose the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ as our theme from the Rudolph film for its themes of acceptance and self-expression.”

Each downtown Champaign business entered a float, decorated with lights, to be judged by a panel in a number of different categories. Around 50 to 60 floats participate in this lighted cascade. 

The Champaign Center Partnership has more holiday events to come, Hazel said.

Following the parade, the center is planning on holding more celebrations to encourage the public to shop at small businesses in the area.

The Holiday Shop-Hop begins on Thursday, Hazel added. Stores in downtown Champaign will be open to the community late for gift shopping. Dec. 18, at the Venue C-U, the Mistletoe Market will be held. Around 25 to 30 local artisans and craftspeople will be selling their work.

Hazel added that the Champaign Center Partneship’s goal is to promote the downtown, midtown and Campustown districts and make them sustainable areas for consumers, vendors and residents alike.

“We try to promote these commercial districts and make them places for people to live and work and be.”

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