Where’s the Dancing Penguin Ornament?

I remember the year my mom tried to ruin my Christmas.  I was still in high school, and she had the audacity to change the color of the felt tablecloths!  For many years, two RED cloths, made by my mom and trimmed with white pompom fringe, draped both the coffee table and the fireplace mantle.   A third fringed circle of red skirted the tree.  But that fateful year, she made new ones – and they were GREEN.  I couldn’t believe it; she had messed with my traditions, and I was not happy.

When my boys were little, I taught them that we don’t sing Christmas carols until after Thanksgiving.  That way Thanksgiving isn’t overlooked in our rush to get to Christmas.  They diligently honored our tradition, and we rejoiced each year when we could finally play that first Christmas tape.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided that one month isn’t enough time to enjoy Christmas music, so I’ve begun listening to it early.  This horrifies my sons:  “You can’t do that!  It’s TRADITION!

We parents are often surprised by how adamant teens can be about sticking with tradition.  Consider for a moment how many things in their lives are changing – often more quickly than they’d like – and you can see why they want their holiday traditions to remain the same.  There’s comfort in familiarity, especially if there’s been upheaval in other areas of their lives.  Kids who’ve had parents split up, or who’ve had a parent lose a job, are looking for reassurance that some things won’t change – and those things, even the small ones, can be important to them.

But even if they haven’t experienced upheaval, teens are still experiencing change:  they’re maturing physically and emotionally; their relationships with those around them (friends, family, love interests) are in constant flux; the expectations put upon them are intensifying.  It’s no wonder they’re seeking consistency in what seems to us to be the little things:  a special plate for Santa’s cookies, the placement of the tree, or even a perennial ornament.  My boys hunted high and low one year for the “dancing penguin ornament,” and they were dismayed to learn it was broken.  “You can fix it, right?” they asked – and were relieved when I did.  Those penguins still dance on our tree.

If your teens pester you about keeping their traditions, you can pat yourself on the back for providing them with an anchor in the storm of adolescence.  Find the ornament, move the tree, play the music – and remind yourself that the day may come when they won’t be home to make sure you’re doing it right, because they’ll be off starting traditions of their own.

Oh – and my mother still has that green felt drape for the mantle, even though she no longer has a fireplace.  And I still whine because it isn’t red.


  1. Thank you for this warm hug of a view of family Christmas. Our memories and our hearts go deep. We all need the assurance that some things never change – parents caring, kids noticing. God bless each family this Christmas.

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