The hands of Christmas past

Fifteen years ago, I was a mom to two little boys. One was 2 years old, and the other was just a baby.
Back then, I didn’t have Pinterest. I didn’t have Instagram or even Facebook. Somehow, even living on a planet empty of social media, I was able to glean creative ideas from sources of which I now have absolutely no memory.
Somewhere, I saw an idea to trace a child’s hands on the skirt of a Christmas tree. I thought this was cute, so I set out to find a plain tree skirt that I could decorate with the handprints of these two tiny boys.

I chose gold paint for the older child and silver for the baby.

When it came to actually tracing these little hands with paint, I imagined them running through the house with wet paint all over their hands, touching things and sticking fingers in mouths, faster than I could stop them. So, I decided to first trace their hands on cardstock, then cut out the hands, and trace the paper hands with paint.
I had so much fun tracing their hands that first year. I spread out the four little hands, with no concern for making room for hands in future years. I wrote their names under their hands and the year: 2002.
The next year, I added four more slightly larger hands. By the third year, I had a new set of tiny hands to add to the tree skirt. I had to choose a new color for her hands. And so a splash of green was added to the gold and silver.

As the years went on, I would often wait until after Christmas to paint the hands. Many times, the tree skirt would lay out for months after we had put away all of the other Christmas decorations. Sometimes, I would even let the little cut-outs of their hands pile up and have to paint two sets the following year.
Our seventh year into the process, we added one more set of hands. This time, I traced in red.

And I also filled up the tree skirt.
What should I do now? Was that the end of the tradition?

As a fourth born myself, I know how it feels to looks at so many photos and hear tales of vacations of which I have no memory. I wasn’t born for much of the fun. Or some of the traditions. I wanted this sweet little one to get more than one set of hands drawn on the tree skirt.
So, I set out shopping for another plain tree skirt. This time, all I could find was green.

The hands were growing larger, and in 2010, those eight hands wrapped themselves halfway around the outer edge of the new skirt.
I continued tracing hands on cardstock at the beginning of each Christmas season. But sometimes, the traced hands would sit in the closet never getting traced in paint.
This year, I looked at my second tree skirt and realized I had fallen FIVE YEARS behind! I knew where those traced hands were kept because they taunted me all year long. Over and over again, I would write on a to-do list, “paint hands on tree skirt!” Over and over again, I would ignore my own admonition.
Finally, this year, I found the hands I had traced. I had missed a few years, but was determined not to give up. I simply used the following year’s handprint and traced a set slightly smaller to represent the previous year. This was art, I told myself, not an exact representation.

I cut out five year’s worth of hands. That’s 20 sets. Forty hands.
I arranged them on the tree skirt and realized that once again I had run out of space.

I had two complete years that wouldn’t fit.

This was no time to stop. I searched five stores before finding a plain tree skirt that I liked. I struggled with the fact that the three skirts were completely different styles.

I spent hours tracing and cutting hands. Laying them out. Tracing them in paint. Writing the names. Adding the years.

Finally. I’m done.

I think this is the only tradition that I have carried out for basically the entire life of my children (minus those first two years). I wonder what I will do with three tree skirts. I wonder what I will do when one goes to college, then two, then three, then four. I wonder if I will someday add grandchildren. I wonder how many tree skirts I will eventually fill.

I decide not to worry about it. This year, I love looking back at those tiny hands that have grown into bigger hands and are now adult-sized hands.
I’m so thankful I have them to look at and remind me how blessed I’ve been by all of those sets of hands.


  1. I identify with this post sooo much! This is me with our digital scrapbooks. I let myself get waaay behind when my laptop crashed September a year ago. I was just going to let the whole project go… But then the kids pulled out past books & actually THANKED ME that we had them in our family!!! #guiltgutpunch I’m still waaay behind, but I’m up to last May… I looove that you caught up & are still going with this!!!

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