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Champaign’s Parade Of Lights Goes Virtual & Miniature

The University YMCA used a photograph to create this miniature float, depicting their building, for the Champaign Parade of Lights Shoebox Edition.

Champaign’s 20th annual Parade of Lights went before the public for the first time, Saturday evening. But instead of a procession on downtown streets, the parade features miniature floats on your computer screen. (Watch the parade at this link).

The virtual “shoebox edition” of the parade was created due to COVID-19 precautions, which have led towns such as Paxton, Decatur and Watseka to cancel their Christmas parades this year. (Farmer City held its Christmas Parade on November 22, and the downtown Mattoon is set to go ahead with its parade on December 4).

The Champaign Center Partnership holds the Parade of Lights each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to promote merchants and businesses in Champaign’s downtown, mid-town and Campustown areas.

Xander Hazel with the Champaign Center Partnership says the idea for a virtual shoebox version of the parade was suggested by one of their business members.

 “One of our business members from another town in Illinois had sent us a similar parade that was done for Independence Day. And so we took it, we were inspired by it.

In the Chicago suburb of Waukegan, the local park district took the shoebox parade, a perennial children’s craft activity, and put it on a video screen, with local businesses and groups building the miniature floats as an alternative to a full-scale, in-person parade. (See the Waukegan parade’s Youtube video here). Other communities around the country have also used the idea, such as Coconino County, Arizona, where a virtual shoebox parade was organized by the local community college.

Hazel says Champaign’s shoebox edition of their Parade of Lights was organized on relatively short notice, so it doesn’t have as many floats as their usual full-sized parade. But still, he says there it features dozens of miniature lighted entries, measuring around 12 by 16 inches.

“We had 47 businesses and organizations get crafty and build these floats,” said Hazel. “And we’ll basically sort of imitate the feel of an actual parade on TV, but with a lot smaller and a lot cuter floats.”

Xander says some participants have taken a lot of care with the construction of the miniature parade floats.

“Sort of the one thing that I was very impressed with, was just the little things that people would add to their floats,” said Hazel. “In some cases, it would be a picture of their staff. That’s only about half an inch by half an inch. And you might even miss it if you weren’t looking closely. People really go into the finer details, which was great to see.”

Like past editions of the parade, the shoebox edition of the Parade of Lights features a theme (“Home For The Holidays”) and an honorary grand marshal (Champaign-Urbana Public Health District administrator Julie Pryde). And, Hazel says the parade switches to full-size at its close, for the annual lighting of the big Christmas tree at One Main Plaza in downtown Champaign by a mask-wearing Santa Claus.  The video presentation (produced by Champaign’s Shatterglass Studios) also includes a musical performance by Suzuki-Rolland students from The Conservatory of Central Illinois. Andrew Schiver and Lindsey Gates Markel of CU Broad Comedy will emcee the presentation.

The Champaign Parade of Lights Shoebox edition premiered Saturday .m. on the Champaign Center Partnership’s Youtube channel, where it can still be seen.  It is also posted on the Partnership’s main website, its Facebook page, and the WCIA-TV Facebook page

(UPDATE: This article was revised after the Parade of Lights premiere, to include links to the parade video. – JM 11/29/20 12:00 a.m.)

Picture of Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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Severe storms possible Thursday evening and overnight

From the National Weather Service in Central Illinois: A line of t’storms will affect the area late Thursday afternoon into the overnight hours. Some severe storms are in the forecast, with damaging wind gusts and large hail. Stay weather aware and be ready to take shelter when storms approach.