If you, your spouse, or children received monetary gifts for Christmas and you’re still wondering–almost two months later–“What are some creative ways to spend our Christmas money?,” this article is for you! In it, I’m proposing six ways families like yours could spend that gift you’ve been holding onto since December. And, as you might expect, all of the ideas are geared toward helping families learn more about other cultures or countries. (By the way, the article contains a few Amazon affiliate links, which will allow me to earn income from qualifying purchases.)
PURCHASE MUSEUM TICKETS OR MEMBERSHIPS
Families that are interested in exploring different cultural institutions this year should visit the website maintained by the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) and see if a favorite cultural-, history- or ethnic art museum near them is part of that network. If it is, I recommend that you become a member of that local museum at the NARM level of membership. This level makes it possible for adults and children alike to enjoy free admittance into a favorite local cultural institution plus hundreds of other member museums throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico during the membership period.
In the Chicago area, there are many cultural institutions that families can visit to learn about some of the ethnic groups that call the Windy City home, such as the National Museum of Mexican Art, the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, and the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. And each of these museums can be seen in the above photos that I’ve taken during my visits to the museums. The museums are also included in the below list of Chicago-area cultural institutions. For your convenience, I’ve placed an asterisk (*) next to the museums that belong to the NARM network.
Chinese American Museum of Chicago, 238 W. 23rd St., Chicago, IL, 60616
DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center*, 740 E. 56th Pl., Chicago, IL, 60637
Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60630
Mitchell Museum of the American Indian*, 3001 Central Street, Evanston, IL, 60201
National Hellenic Museum*, 333 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL, 60661
National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th Street, Chicago, IL, 60608
The National Puerto Rican Museum*, 3015 W. Division Street, Chicago, IL, 60622
Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60642
Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, 60640
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622
PICK UP EDUCATIONAL PUZZLES AND GAMES
Great for children three and up, the puzzles sold on puzzlehuddle.com contain 15 to 200 pieces and feature a colorful assortment of diversity-focused images that highlight culture, education, and different careers. Families that like card games, should consider adding The World Game to their collection. This award-winning geography card game is designed to help kids and adults learn basic facts (e.g., capitol cities, flags, etc.) about approximately 200 countries.
If you want to expand your meal repertoire this year, consider buying one or more cookbooks–either from your local bookstore or on Amazon.com–that feature recipes that originated in cuisines from cultures different from your own. And, if you’ve been struggling with getting the children in your family to try new foods, invite them to pick recipes from your new cookbook that they can make with you. Younger children could help during the food prep process by retrieving, seasoning and mixing ingredients. And older ones could help during the actual cooking process by basting, sauteing or stir frying ingredients. This type of involvement could make the dishes more appealing to your children, as well as create opportunities for them to spend quality time with you that is educational and fun.
SUBSCRIBE TO MAGAZINES
Adults can raise their cultural IQ by reading magazines that highlight the lives and experiences of people who reside in–or whose ancestors are from–different countries or regions around the world. One such magazine is Culturs Magazine. It aims at amplifying voices of multicultural, multiethnic people, including immigrants, missionary kids, transnational adoptees and others who embrace “in-between” identity. The Smithsonian Magazine features articles about the people who make up the rich cultural heritage and history of the United States, as well as news about exhibitions at Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture; National Museum of the American Indian; and the National Museum of Asian Art, among others.
While the above-mentioned magazines are great for adults, your children might be more excited to read FACES Magazine, a publication that teaches kids about different cultures through articles, recipes, and projects. Other suggested publications for young people include WORLDkids and WORLDteen, both of which integrate a biblical perspective into news articles that cover interesting current events from around the world.
Traveling to another country right now could be challenging for many people and even impossible for others. But you can find ways to learn more about–and see images of–places you want to visit without needing a passport or having to tap into your savings account. And one inexpensive way to explore other places from a distance until you’re able to see them in person is to buy calendars and display them in different places, such as a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dorm room, office, etc.
I’ve spotted calendars like the ones shown below at bookstores, office supply stores, big box department stores, superstores, and even grocery stores. I even saw a calendar on Amazon.com that displays a year’s worth of new words from different languages (e.g., Spanish, French, and German). That would be a wise purchase for someone who’s trying to learn a new language prior to visiting another country.
ATTEND ARTS EVENTS
Attending events that showcase the arts through the perspective of individuals from different ethnic groups can be a lot of fun. Since my girls love to dance, we gravitate toward shows that feature different types of cultural dance. One dance company that we’ve seen in person a couple times is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It has been entertaining audiences with its beautiful style of modern dance–which incorporates nods to African American culture–for almost 44 years. And we could see the talented dancers–whose works are often performed to eclectic jazz tracks–in action again soon since they’re touring the country right now! This year’s tour schedule includes stops in Chicago, IL; Atlanta, GA; Philadelphia, PA; Memphis, TN; Dallas, TX; Newark, NJ; and San Diego, CA, among other cities. Visit the company’s website to see the entire tour schedule.
Another cultural arts company that you could see perform live is Shen Yun Performing Arts. Shen Yun combines classical Chinese dance, colorful costumes, live music performed by an orchestra, and beautiful digital backdrops to create shows that are unlike any other event that my family and I have attended. The company recently kicked off a string of U.S. performances and will put on shows in Chicago, IL; Milwaukee, WI; Grand Rapids, MI; Minneapolis, MN; Jacksonville, FL; Long Beach, CA; and Baltimore, MD, among other cities, before the tour ends in May. Visit the Shen Yun website to see if the company will be coming to a venue near you during this year’s tour.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with at least one creative idea about how to spend a cash gift that was received for Christmas. And, if you’ve already spent that money–or never received any–I hope you’ve still been inspired to seek out affordable, fun ways to learn about other cultures throughout the year.