All I Want for Christmas is … a Penguin?

A little girl’s dream comes true at last, thanks to the Philadelphia Zoo.

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots doesn’t cut it with Kris Kringle. I’m convinced he needs more. 

So I pen my letters to Santa by the first week in December, and I’m always sure to ask how he and the missus are doing. It does seem rude, after all, to go right into the asking part.

Back when I was 7, my mother sat me at the table with a red crayon and construction paper and said I could ask Santa for two big gifts and three smaller ones. Now, it’s printer paper, but the first item on the list has remained the same for 25 years. 

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A penguin.

Initially, I received a stuffed penguin, which I promptly named Sylvester. A faithful friend, he remains a fixture in my bedroom, though he lost his original Santa attire long ago.

The following Christmas, I received an array of paraphernalia: waist-high stuffed penguins, penguin body pillows, a penguin-shaped hamper, penguin bed sheets, and a DVD of Batman Returns, featuring Danny DeVito as the Penguin.

I didn’t throw a Veruca Salt-like fit and pout. This is because I knew that, when my pet did arrive, it would feel right at home with its likeness everywhere.

As I grew into an adult, my list became more specific:

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1) a penguin

2) to meet/pet a penguin

3) a chrome KitchenAid mixer.

The payoff finally came last Christmas—sort of. Santa adopted a penguin for me at the Philadelphia Zoo. Included with my gift was this note:


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Dear Katie,

Penguins aren’t allowed to live in King of Prussia. They are much happier at the zoo with their friends and can't wait for you to visit. 



When the day arrived for the meet-and-greet, I was led to the back area of the zoo habitat. The penguin keeper, Amy Ivins, handed me a bucket of fish, telling me the penguins had a preference for which type they liked. She said a lot of other stuff, but I was too giddy to listen. 

The penguins waddled up to us, opened their beaks, and ate the fish whole. They don’t chew since they don’t have teeth.

I was so enamored with my furry buddies that I wanted to hop over the rail,  jump into the pond, and swim with them. And, yeah, I may have thought about snatching  one—or two. 

But when I asked how they’d do as pets, Ivins said it was illegal to keep them at home. And, besides, she added, they’d just make a mess of my place anyhow.

You could say it all worked out for the best. Instead of crossing an item off my Christmas list, it’s now there every year: a return visit to see the penguins.

People and penguins alike are more than welcome to visit Katie Bambi-Kohler’s website at

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!