For my best friend and me, growing up in the ’90s, it wasn’t enough for us to just read about Kirsten Larson, the American Girl, and Little House on...
Go global at home!
Even if you have no budget, vacation time or even patience for international travel with your little ones, you can enjoy a rich array of multicultural experiences right here in Minnesota — often for free.
For little ones age 5 and younger accompanied by their caregivers, Midtown Global Market offers educational events every week. Activities may include dancing, live puppet theater, cooking activities and even live animals from the Como Zoo. Check the website for a variety of other events and festivals throughout the year.
When: 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Wednesdays
Where: Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis
Bonus: While you’re there, you can also explore the year-round farmers market and a vibrant array of international shops, featuring more than 50 vendors.
Festival of Nations
Through world-class music and dance performances, exhibits, demonstrations, activities, and food, this family-friendly festival provides a look into the traditions, history and journey of nearly 100 ethnic groups, and sheds light on how each one contributes to the American cultural landscape. The theme for 2018 is Then and Now: Exploring Historical and Contemporary Cultural Traditions.
When: May 4–6
Where: St. Paul RiverCentre
Cost: $11 in advance, $13.50 at the door
Flint Hills International Children’s Festival
This festival features local, regional and international professional artists representing more than 25 countries.
When: Family weekend is June 1–2.
Where: The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown St. Paul and the areas nearby, including Rice Park and Landmark Plaza
Cost: All outdoor performances and activities are free. Indoor performances cost $8.
Celebrate German culture at this festival, going on its 60th year, featuring food, live music, dance, art, education and other traditional activities — not a stereotypical beer-centric Oktoberfest event.
Highlights include Lederhosen-clad participants, a Family Fun Carnival, a puppet show, Train Day, and more.
When: June 9–10
Where: Germanic-American Institute, St. Paul
Welcome summer at the American Swedish Institute with a family-friendly day of cultural activities in and around the Turnblad Mansion. Singing and folk dancing happen throughout the afternoon. Be there at 11:30 a.m. to see the raising of the Swedish Midsummer pole — and dance around it!
Other family activities include flower head-wreath making, face painting, storytelling, outdoor games, nature-based play activities and Midsummer eats from the on-site critically acclaimed FIKA cafe. The day is full of music, movement and games both inside and outdoors, so come prepared for the weather.
When: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. June 16
Where: American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis
Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6–18, free for ages 5 and younger
Bonus: The institute also offers a wide variety of holiday events around Christmastime.
Hmong Freedom Festival
Founded more than 35 years ago to mark the anniversary of the Hmong immigration to the U.S. following the Vietnam War, this event is one of the largest Hmong celebrations in the world.
Thousands of spectators come to see tournaments, including soccer, volleyball, flag football and the Southeast Asian sport of kick-volleyball, known as sepak takraw.
When: June 30–July 1
Where: McMurray Field in Como Park, St. Paul
Cost: $7; free for people 65 and older or less than 42 inches tall
International Day at Concordia Language Villages
Take an in-state road trip for this cultural experience. The Bemidji-based camp is renowned for language-immersion programs that help children discover what it means to be a citizen of the world.
Twice a summer, Concordia hosts a fair for the public as well as campers and their families. Activities include a Peace Site ceremony, parades, a World Cup Soccer Extravaganza, Biohaus tours, a Global Summit, a Voyageur Canoe/Chinese Dragon Boat race and multicultural food and beverages available for purchase.
When: July 6 and Aug. 10
Where: Waldsee German Language Village, Bemidji
The tradition of dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Racing teams paddle in ornately designed boats representing the mythical creature of Chinese folklore. When your little spectators tire of watching the races, check out martial arts demonstrations, bouncy castles (tickets required) and vendors.
A performance stage showcases the arts of Asia with colorful costumes, traditional dances and music ranging from energetic Taiko drumming to the pentatonic melodies of Chinese flutes.
When: July 14–15
Where: Lake Phalen Park, St. Paul
Irish Fair of Minnesota
The nation’s largest free Irish fair is held outdoors at St. Paul’s Harriet Island. Multiple stages dedicated to dance and music performances are a big draw for all ages, and the children’s area offers kid-friendly activities for every level of rambunctiousness.
An art tent features face painting and arts and crafts, while the fair’s activity tent includes dance lessons, games, races, musical performances and visits from native dogs.
When: Aug. 10–12
Where: Harriet Island, St. Paul
Cost: Free. Bring money for parking.
Twin Cities Polish Festival
Learn about Polish culture and traditions at this family-friendly event, featuring folk-dance exhibitions, live music, food, beverages, arts and crafts, cultural exhibits and a petting area filled with cuddly Polish sheepdogs.
When: Aug. 10–12
Where: Along the Mississippi River on Old Main Street in northeast Minneapolis, across from St. Anthony Main
Organized by the India Association of Minnesota, this 43rd-annual event includes parades, cultural exhibits, Indian cuisine from local restaurants, a bazaar, internationally acclaimed classical dance groups based in Minnesota, as well as live Bollywood music. Other family-friendly activities include henna, face painting, inflatables, kite flying, chess, cricket and yoga.
When: Aug. 18
Where: State Capitol Grounds, St. Paul
Como Park Japanese Obon Festival
Bonsai, martial arts, Ikebana, singing, dancing, drumming, delicious food and other aspects of Japanese culture will take center stage at the 20th annual Como Park Japanese Obon Festival, a family-friendly event, reminiscent of Japan’s annual Obon holiday. The day will culminate at dusk with the main event: the lantern lighting. Stone lanterns as well as hundreds of floating paper lanterns throughout the Japanese Garden pond and the Frog Pond will create a vision of peacefulness and harmony.
When: 3–9 p.m. Aug. 19
Where: Outside the main entrance to Como Zoo and Conservatory, St. Paul
Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for ages 3–12 and seniors above 65 and over, free for ages 2 and younger
The historic Landmark Center is a picturesque place to spend a Sunday as a family, especially when free interactive programming is offered. This year’s Urban Expedition, an annual series featuring a different country each session, featured festivals celebrating Bolivia, Iceland, Bulgaria, France and Japan.
The program invites children and adults to experience crafts, music, dance, language lessons and live animals native to each featured country.
When: 1–3 p.m. select Sundays in winter and spring
Where: Landmark Center, St. Paul
Bonus: In addition to the Urban Expedition series, the Landmark also features a variety of multicultural and music events September through May every year as part of its Sundays at the Landmark series. The 2017-18 season included a Carpathian celebration (featuring the seven cultures hailing from the Carpathian region of Eastern Europe), plus Irish, Scottish and German events for all ages.
Abbie Burgess is a Twin Cities freelance writer and lifestyle blogger at thepinkpaperdoll.com.
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