Stringing Joy

Kolbie Christensen and Darrelyn Dollar

Months before any winter holiday begins, Christmas music starts to play, the holiday commercials begin and Christmas lights burn bright in neighborhoods throughout our community as holiday traditions begin. One uniquely Kansas City tradition is the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.

The Plaza shopping district hosts the annual event on Thanksgiving night and includes not only the lights, but also fireworks and a concert. This year it was held on Nov. 22 and the lights will stop glowing on Jan. 13, 2019. 2018 marks the 89th anniversary of the lighting ceremony.

A switch is flipped every year to signify the start of the holiday season when the lights come on and the Plaza is lit up. Not just anyone is given this honor, generally a local celebrity like Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith, actor Rob Riggle, or Royals player Alex Gordon are among those selected to flip the switch as the clock ticks down.

The 2018 honoree was Kansas City, Mo. mayor, Sly James. Tens  of thousands of people attend to watch the highly anticipated Kansas City tradition.

Another lesser known Christmas tradition is Paulie’s Penguin Playground, which is a homemade Christmas display full of different holiday penguins Paulie’s Penguin Playground located in Olathe, Kan. off of Indian Creek Parkway. The tradition was started by Paul Craig. He decorates his house and front yard with penguin inflatables, lights and a projector playing penguin related films on his driveway.

He started this tradition in 2004 with only 15 penguin inflatables and a couple of strands of lights. Currently the display features more than 200 inflatables and thousands of lights.

Craig created this display to help raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after his mom passed away from leukemia.

“It started as a joke on my wife since she collects penguins,” Craig said. “And then just grew from there was kind of the catalyst to pull me out of my funk about the holidays since I lost my mom around Christmas in 1999.”




     The display is free, but donations are always welcome. Hundreds of thousands of people drop by on the weekends.

Craig has raised more than $49,000 over the 10 years it has been done.

Another light show to check out is displayed by senior Jack Tenbrink. Tenbrink has had a passion for Christmas lights for years and has awed his neighbors and many more ever since.

“Ever since my dad started putting Christmas lights up when I was a little kid, I was always fascinated by putting up lights and showing off my holiday spirit,” Tenbrink said.

His dad’s tradition of displaying Christmas lights soon turned into his own.

Five or six years ago, I started putting them up myself and I found that my house was very mediocre and the same as everyone else’s,” Tenbrink said. “I wanted to go above and beyond and decided to start investing money into creating my own light show.”

The display takes Tenbrink three Saturdays to assemble, but the work is worthwhile. Although Tenbrink’s display may not attract as much attention as the Plaza lights, his favorite part is to have friends and family come to view his house.

“My passion for Christmas lights came from wanting to have the best looking house on my street,” Tenbrink said. “My neighbors have a very funny joke that they call me ‘Clark’ from the Christmas Vacation movie.”

Tenbrink’s tradition brings his community together to watch the lights each year.

Christmas lights, whether setting up the display or just viewing, continue to bring joy to everyone around. This form of celebration is one that many make a tradition and enjoy participating in every year.