Mardi Gras celebrations to fill the Union


By Lillian Barkley

Beads, parades and day drinking are mainstays at Mardi Gras celebrations. From New Orleans to St. Louis, the celebrations of Mardi Gras all have a signature take on the historic French tradition.

“It was a great, great weekend, probably one of my favorite weekends I’ve had here so far my senior year,” said Cole Eggenberger, senior in LAS, after traveling to St. Louis on Friday with 10 of her roommates for the weekend to celebrate. “I think my favorite memory from the weekend was kind of just everybody being there. There were so many (University) people there, which I really loved.” 

Even though St. Louis’ celebration is the second-largest Mardi Gras in the U.S. and took place last weekend, it served as a precursor to the campus celebrations. While the University may be far from the Mississippi River, the Mardi Gras spirit will thrive at the Illini Union on Tuesday. 

The Illini Union Board is hosting a Mardi Gras celebration event and the Taste of the Union. The Mardi Gras celebration will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday and end at 9 p.m. in the I-Rooms, and the Taste of the Union will be from noon to 2 p.m. in the lower level of the building. 

“While it is focusing on the education and origin of Mardi Gras, it also is a great entertainment opportunity for students,” said Alexxis Franklin, director of cultural programs for the Illini Union Board and sophomore in AHS. 

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A palm reader and fortune teller will be at the event, as well as the Pacific Islanders dance group. Free Mardi Gras-themed food will also be available, and recipes will be handed out to students who want to make the dishes at home.

The event will also incorporate the history of Mardi Gras, which Franklin will be teaching. She has diversity training and personal experience with the celebration. 

“I grew up from a very diverse background, so Mardi Gras was always celebrated each year in my family,” she said. 

Franklin said even when she was growing up, she went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans; however, she did not appreciate the history of the event and admitted that she isn’t completely aware of the history behind it.  

“We kind of just know it kind of for the partying and the fun and the craziness and all that,” Franklin said. 

The festival has a rich history, dating back to medieval France and the festival of “Boeuf Gras,” meaning “fatted calf,” according to the Mardi Gras New Orleans website. It originated as a feasting holiday before the fast of Lent. 

Mardi Gras is more known as a drinking holiday, as Eggenberger said, but bourbon and hurricanes will not be available at the Union. The event is an alternative to the Campustown bars, according to Franklin.

“I know a lot of universities don’t really take time to make a fun event and educational opportunity as well,” she said. 

This is her first event as director, and Franklin said she would be at the Taste of the Union to promote it.

The two events are not directly associated, but the Taste of the Union will be decorated for Mardi Gras. 

“This event (the Taste of the Union) can be considered as an ‘appetizer’ to the main event,” wrote Lori Holmes, coordinator of retail services for the Illini Union, in an email. 

While this is the first year for the event, Holmes wrote that they hope it will become an annual event in following years, she wrote. After students said they were unaware of the food options in the Union and were hesitant to purchase food they hadn’t tried before, the event was created, according to Holmes. 

The vendors will also offer prizes and games, such as discounted cosmic bowling and glow-in-the-dark prizes from the Rec Room, according to Holmes. 

“There will be cotton candy, snow cones and, of course, beads — a true carnival atmosphere,” she wrote. 

She added that customer feedback is always appreciated, as it fosters new menu ideas, service improvements as well as event inspiration. 

All vendors from the Union will be participating, including the food court restaurants, the Quad Shop, Rec Room, Espresso Royale and Jamba Juice. 

“We hope this event will raise awareness of all the Illini Union vendors as well as providing the opportunity to try samples of popular items,” Holmes wrote.

As the Cajuns would say, “laissez-les bon temps rouler,” all day at the Union. 

Lillian can be reached at [email protected].