Many complain that the true spirit of the holidays have been corrupted by crass materialism. But there are ways to be less material and incorporate values – family values, social values, environmental values, global values – into your gift giving.
Many of the great museums and institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their endeavor by shopping online or through catalogs: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the Art Institute of Chicago (855-301-9612), Smithsonian (Smithsonianmag.com) to list just a few.
Zoos and aquariums are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, eco-friendly products There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com).
Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these organizations, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple visits as well as giving access to benefits.
Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site and you will likely find a store or various ways to support the organization with your gift (see below for a whole list of New York City sites).
You can give a gift that preserves the planet and good social purpose, often getting something material in the bargain. In recent years, I have “purchased” an acre for preservation and sent a furry animal and booklet to my niece and nephew through the Nature Conservancy (nature.org/gifts and there is an actual catalog); became a member of the Smithsonian Institution and received not only a subscription to the outstanding Smithsonian magazine for myself, but a free subscription/membership to give as a gift, not to mention the incredible journeys offered through the Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com); enrolled my loved one as a member of the National Parks Conservation Association so they received a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine; made donations on behalf of my loved ones to National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service which earned gifts as well as membership benefits. A gift membership to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for example, gives access to fabulous information on bike trails (www.railstotrails.org).
You can give a gift that supports important organizations which protect destinations, historic or cultural sites, or the mission of exploration, like National Geographic (which has the famous magazine, an online gift catalog, plus a travel division; ignite a curiosity to explore other places: give National Geographic Kids magazine, nationalgeographic.com.
Other organizations on my holiday list: National Wildlife Federation (which has neat stuff on its site, nwf.org); Audubon Society (www.audubon.org), the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/store), the Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org); Natural Resources Defense Council (nrdcgreengifts.org), World Wildlife Fund (wwfus.org). Also, National Trust for Historic Preservation (membership includes subscription to fabulous Preservation magazine, www.preservationnation.org).
The point is, you can support worthy organizations with your holiday gift giving.
Trips That Make a Difference
For certifiable do-gooders, there is a category of travel, Voluntourism, that lets you travel to a destination to volunteer for good purpose – whether it is participating in scientific research, working to save a species from extinction or save the planet, or helping disadvantaged communities.
Among them: Village Experience, which has expanded upon a fair-trade retail shop (which supports local craftsmen) but also has an ambitious program that brings travelers into villages, creating another stream of revenue (www.experiencethevillage.com); Earthwatch Institute which engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education in order to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. (800-776-0188, 978-461-0081, www.earthwatch.org), Biosphere Expeditions (800-407-5761, www.biosphere-expeditions.org), Globeaware (www.globeaware.org/volunteer-vacations).
Just because you are volunteering your services does not mean the trips are cheap; you pay for the privilege of doing good and your fees help support the mission.
Other places to search: Volunteer Guide (volunteerguide.org/volunteer/vacations.htm), Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/outings/national/service.aspx); American Hiking Society (www.americanhiking.org/volunteerVacation.aspx); Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org).
There is a whole category of experiential trips that not only enrich and inspire and make the world a better place, but support important institutions like National Geographic, the Smithsonian (which also offer student and family programs); Outward Bound, Road Scholar, Sierra Club (sierraclub.org), just as examples. Also, National Trust for Historic Preservation (the organization is the umbrella for Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org, offers Great Experiences & Tours, www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/travel/tours/.
Travel Gift Card, Registry Programs
Black Friday, Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season. But gifts don’t have to come in a box. You can also gift the experience of travel and all the life-enhancing, even life-changing benefits that travel affords, from creating the opportunities for family bonding, to enriched learning, to broadening perspectives and world-view, to laying the values for social consciousness by seeing other cultures and habitats.
Many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies – have gift card programs – spas (Spafinder.com), ski resorts (Vail Resorts, probably the biggest mountain resort company in the world offers Mountain Gift Card which can be used as a gift certificate for lodging, lift tickets, dining, ski school and more, www.vailresorts.com); cruiselines (cruising.org).
SpaFinder.com and its spa-beauty gift division, SpaWish, offer gift certificates and cards that are redeemable at a combined network of over 9,000 spas, yoga, Pilates and fitness studios, wellness practitioners and salons worldwide, and are available at nearly 100,000 unique retail outlets in 79 countries.
For that skier, where you don’t want to be pinned down to a particular resort, region or date, check out Liftopia.com for Ski Gift Cards that never expire, can be used towards buying discounted ski lift tickets to any of the resort partners (250+ resorts in North America, but these have to be purchased for specific resorts for specific days and there is a limited supply), (www.liftopia.com/gift_cards.php, 800-349-0870).
Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members – each one distinct, and most often grand, historic and luxurious – offer gift cards – like Wentworth by the Sea, NH; Omni Grove Park Inn, Mission Inn & Spa (the list goes on and on) – just inquire. (To see members, visit historichotels.org)
The key here is that if there is a destination, a cruise, a resort you want to “gift” to your loved one, just ask if a program is available. Check on expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.
Taking a cue from the bridal, home-products and baby stories, Individual travel companies have set up registries. STA Travel, which is a booking engine serves students, youth under 26 and teachers, has both a gift card program as well as a travel registry (www.statravel.com/travelregistry.htm). SpaFinder also has a travel registry program (www.spafinder.com).
Another travel gift registry is MyTab, where like a wedding registry, you can accumulate funds in an account, so that various friends and family can contribute to the same trip on a wishlist (see mytab.co/how-it-works).
Check out the specials of the season that travel entities – resorts, cruiselines, tour companies – are offering.
For example, Sebasco Resort, in mid-coast Maine: Purchase a $100 Sebasco Harbor Resort gift card by December 20 and get a $20 gift card free. a $200 gift card gets a $50 bonus gift card. Lighthouses and Lobsters Vacation Package starting at just $149/night; Harbor Village Captain Studio Suite is $209/night in spring and fall. Use your bonus gift card toward a day of relaxation at the Fairwinds Spa, a gourmet meal at The Pilot House Restaurant or a Family Fun Package – “Stay 5 nights for the price of 4.” (sebasco.com, 877-389-1161)
Norwegian Cruise Line has been doing 12 Days of Christmas savings, as well as a gift card program – sold in denominations of $25, $50, $100, $250 and $500 or customize up to $1000, which can be applied toward a cruise, or onboard in the spa or shore excursions (ncl.com, 888-438-7008, 800.327.7030).
Other travel companies offering cyber specials include Row Adventures (ROWadventures.com) and International Expeditions (ietravel.com), Woodstock Inn & Resort in Woodstock, Vermont (www.woodstockinn.com, 888) 338-2745) – the list is endless.
And how much better to let someone special know you care by gifting them the fulfillment of a fantasy? There are Fantasy Camps for just about every interest. For example: Broadway Fantasy Camp, geared to adults of all ages and levels of experience, immerses you in the world of performing and creating live theatre, working closely with theatre pros – veteran stage directors, choreographers, and musical directors – who guide you through the process (www.broadwayfancamp.com, 212-713-0366). Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, based in Las Vegas, offers a variety of music, as well as Songwriting Fantasy Camp and Vocalist camp (check their site for calendar and events, www.rockcamp.com, 888-762-2263). Or how about being mentored by members of the legendary 1980 Gold Medal “Miracle on Ice” Hockey Team – that’s being offered in Lake Placid, NY, March 29-April 2, 2015 (www.MiracleonIceFantasyCamp.com).
Brite Spokes by Kuoni designs tours are special experiences (www.britespokes.com, 800-986-4735)
TerraVelo Tours has an interesting way to giftwrap their specialty – a luxury camping (aka “glamping”) and cycling tours of Utah or Wyoming National Parks, or California’s vineyards and redwoods with TerraVelo Tours. For the holidays, you can purchase a voucher for a 2015 itinerary. TerraVelo has even created an elegant way to present your gift: a TerraVelo tote bag, complete with a custom-designed voucher and your choice of a selection of bath amenities from historic C.O. Bigelow & Apotheke Co. or a TomTom MultiSport GPS watch. (www.TerraVeloTours.com, 888-801-1446).
And if you are struggling for that special gift for the hard-to-please teen, consider an Outward Bound expedition: Sailing on the rugged and beautiful Maine Coast; Sea kayaking through the Outer Banks; Dog sledding on the frozen Boundary Waters of Minnesota; Mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies, High Sierra or Pacific Northwest; and many more choices to fit students’ interests, schedules and locations. The company makes it easy to purchase a Gift Certificate (outwardbound.org, 866-828-1195).
Travel Related Gifts
Still wedded to the idea of a material gift? There are umptium possibilities for the travel-bound, especially where some special-interest or activity that requires special gear or equipment is involved like skiing, biking, hiking is involved.
Among our favorites: REI, www.rei.com/s/holiday-gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840); Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com; LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis Express, TennisExpress.com), Bass Pro Shops (www.basspro.com). And of course, luggage (I had a good experience with Luggageonline.com, 888-958-4424).
Cameras are big on the list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key crteria. Some of the new smaller cameras have almost as much functionality as the larger digital SLR, but are compact, light, easily carried and in most cases even have quality video. (For really important trips, good to have a DSLR as well as a smaller, versatile point-and-shoot. Look for a wide-range digital zoom, ISO range, Image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability). Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those trips into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such. (Check out B&H, bandh.com, 212-465-4016 / 877-885-1921). Adorama has a whole category of gifts for the adventurer – the astrophotographer, the astronomer, the birder, the survivalist, the underwater photographer, the adrenalin junky (www.adorama.com, 800-223-2500)
For families traveling with kids, consider loading up the I-Pad with fun apps for the trip (check out mibblio.com, an interactive musical storybook), their own camera which I find is a great way to engage kids in what they are seeing – At Nationalgeographic.com, I saw “Science Experiments on the Go” kit – bite-sized projects can be done in planes, trains, and automobiles.
‘Only-in-NYC’ Gift Shopping Ideas from Museums, Cultural Institutions
Where better to find one-of-a-kind gifts than at the cultural institutions throughout the New York City area.
For more than 50 years, the American Folk Art Museum, located near Lincoln Center, has featured works from self-taught artists from the United States and abroad. The museum’s gift shop sells a selection of unique folk art pieces, from home decor to jewelry, similar to the displays seen throughout the museum (folkartmuseum.org).
With products ranging from jewelry to puzzles, the American Museum of Natural History offers a different shopping experience on each of its three floors, including The Museum Shop, The Shop for Earth & Space, Cosmic Shop, Dino Store and Exhibition Shops. Gift ideas include educational books and games, apparel, stuffed animals, gems and minerals, science kits, posters and fossil replicas (amnh.org).
The Bronx Museum of the Arts, known for its contemporary art exhibitions has a holiday pop-up shop in collaboration with Puerto Rican fair-trade retailer Concalma The Store through Thursday, January 15, featuring accessories, T-shirts, books, home goods and iconic handbags (bronxmuseum.org).
One of the largest wildlife conservation parks in the country, the world-renowned Bronx Zoo is open year-round. Visitors are encouraged to come when the weather cools down, as many of the animals are more active then, making for an entertaining visit. The zoo gift shop offers DVDs, books and more (bronxzoo.com).
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s garden shop has an extensive selection of bulbs and seeds, making great gifts for those on your list with a green thumb. The shop also carries garden supplies, books for adults and children, indoor plants, jewelry and apparel featuring the garden’s logo. Plants for sale include bonsai, orchids and tropicals (bbg.org).
With permanent collections featuring ancient Egyptian masterpieces, African art and European painting, the Brooklyn Museum is full of fascinating exhibits. Newly renovated in 2012, the Brooklyn Museum’s shop offers a variety of gifts including books, toys and prints. With a special section dedicated to Made in Brooklyn, visitors will find unique art, jewelry, bath products and apparel made by local artisans from the borough. (brooklynmuseum.org)
Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town dates back to the colonial period, bringing alive American history with over 30 original structures and artifacts from the 17th century. The museum, which presents events, exhibits and concerts, also has a unique gift shop, featuring a wide selection of books discussing the history of Staten Island and, more specifically, Richmond Town (historicrichmondtown.org).
The Louis Armstrong House Museum celebrates the life and legacy of the famous jazz musician, set in his home in Corona, Queens. For music lovers, the museum store offers CDs, DVDs and books relating to Armstrong’s life, jazz history and African-American history. Additional gift ideas include tote bags, Frisbees, T-shirts and more (louisarmstronghouse.org).
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers three ways to view the museum: a walking tour of the neighborhood, various building tours and an interactive Meet the Residents tour featuring a costumed interpreter. The gift shop, located adjacent to the museum, features a wide selection of books and souvenirs related to New York City’s immigrant history, in addition to a range of unique children’s books and toys (tenement.org).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest museum in the nation, uniquely develops products based on collections being shown in the museum to be sold in its gift shop. Items sold include jewelry, home decor, textiles, stationery, printed reproductions, calendars and books, which can also be purchased via the museum’s online gift shop (metmuseum.org).
At the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), shoppers can find designer gift ideas, including glass, ceramics and wood for home decor; fashion accessories and jewelry; stationery, books and children’s toys. Some examples are bookends, menorahs, totes and bowls (madmuseum.org).
The Museum of the City of New York has a selection of New York City–themed products, ideal for those looking to share their NYC experience. Gift ideas include memorabilia, books, clothing and more from its NYC Subway Collection. A fun option is the Eat Like a New Yorker tote, which gives tips to fit in with the locals, like, “Fold your pizza in half the long way.” (mcny.org).
With multiple locations and offerings, the Museum of Modern Art has a lot to offer those looking for holiday gifts in New York City. At the flagship gift shop, visitors can purchase art reproductions, modern-design objects for homes and books for all ages (moma.org).
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, is dedicated to the art, history, technique and technology of the moving image in all its forms. The museum’s gift shop has books for all ages, a wide selection of DVDs, and specially designed museum souvenirs that make for perfect gifts for film fanatics. Additionally, the museum hosts frequent book signings, offering the opportunity to give a personalized holiday gift (movingimage.us).
At the New Museum’s gift shop, visitors can find a unique and comprehensive selection of contemporary art books and other gifts. Books include monographs, critical texts and visual reference volumes. The store also sells CDs, DVDs, two- and three- dimensional art home decorations, apparel and accessories (newmuseum.org).
The New York Aquarium, in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, has multiple exhibits and feeding shows for families to enjoy. There are two gift shops on the grounds, located at either end of the aquarium. Gifts that can be purchased include stuffed animal replicas, clothing, children’s books, jewelry, key chains and postcards (nyaquarium.com).
The New York Hall of Science in Corona, Queens, has exhibits, demonstrations, workshops and participatory activities relating to science, technology, engineering and math. The gift shop, located in the museum and online, offers science books, clothing, hats, mugs, calendars, posters, toys and games (nysci.org).
The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library has a wide selection of gifts, appropriate for all ages. For adults, gifts include apparel, accessories, American history books, stationery, home decor and jewelry. Children’s gifts include books, toys, educational games and themed gifts based on the museum’s Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans exhibit (nyhistory.org).
The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn is one of the largest museums in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history. The museum shop offers books, wooden train toys, apparel, cell phone cases, home accessories, magnets, posters, puzzles and stationery. Visitors can also purchase personalized gifts ranging from key chains to umbrellas. Additionally, gifts can be purchased at the Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal during the Holiday Train Show (mta.info/mta/museum).
With a newly expanded venue, the Queens Museum continues to grow as a space with contemporary art from around the world. Located in Flushing, the museum’s gift shop offers a special section with goods crafted by local artists from the borough. Additionally, the gift shop sells historic memorabilia, T-shirts and more. (queensmuseum.org)
The Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea is home to a comprehensive collection of art from the Himalayas and surrounding regions. Visitors can purchase fair-trade cashmere shawls, scarves, books, candles, artisan jewelry and handcrafts at the gift shop, or attend a happy hour, live music performance, film screening or other special event (rubinmuseum.org).
On the Upper East Side, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is known for its exhibitions of international modern and contemporary art. The museum’s gift shop sells a variety of books, children’s gifts, jewelry and more. A bunny girl sculpture titled “I Have Seen Happiness,” created by Xiang Jing, is one the shop’s featured gifts for the holiday season. (guggenheim.org).
At the hands-on Staten Island Children’s Museum, families can partake in interactive educational activities where kids can bring home handmade presents for family and friends. The museum’s Walk-In Workshops have a limitless supply of crafts, paints, glitter and glue, which children can use to show off their creative side (sichildrensmuseum.org).
In the Bronx, Wave Hill’s gift shop features items from local artists that want to connect people with nature. Gifts that accomplish that mission include educational toys, handcrafted soaps, seasonal plants, nature-inspired ceramics, glass and jewelry. Another unique gift idea from Wave Hill is honey from the garden’s hives (wavehill.org).
We were blown away at the gift shop at the Nassau County Museum of Art, with items offered in conjunction with its phenomenal exhibit, “China Then and Now,” its first to highlight Chinese art, but more interestingly, actually featuring the stunning blue-and-white porcelain collection of the original owners of the mansion, Childs & Frances Frick, which are essentially back “home” for the holidays. (One Museum Drive, Roslyn Harbor, 516-484-9337, nassaumuseum.org).
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Holiday Festivities Get Underway Throughout New York Area and Beyond and slideshow
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