The hands of Christmas past

Last night, I traced four sets of hands, and one set of paws on our tree skirt. It’s a tradition I started 18 years ago when Matthew was just a baby and Andrew was two years old.

I always laugh when I look back at that first set of hands because I placed them so far apart. Back then, it seemed like it would take a million years to fill up the whole tree skirt. And I must have thought I would have plenty of room to add an entire childhood of hands.

But looking backward to that first set of hands, it feels like it was only an instant ago. How could I have known back then that in 2004 I would add another set of hands. And in 2009, another. I’ve added two more tree skirts since then, and I’m trying to decide whether to go buy a fourth so I can keep drawing hands, at least until Jayda is out of high school.

Sometimes I regret ever starting this tradition. Because how and when will I ever stop? And how do I even display three tree skirts around a single tree? But as I look back at all of those hands, I have vivid memories of many of those Christmases. It was my way to tangibly capture a tiny moment in time.

Some years were filled with sweet babies and toddlers, precious moments and sleepless nights. Others were loud and crazy, full of joy and anticipation, sibling rivalry and fighting. These days are more content. There’s less longing for gifts and more appreciation of time together. We also have our moments of strained relationships, hard conversations and important decisions.

I’ve missed adding hands some years, and had to go back and just make them slightly larger than the year before. Now, most of the hands are completely grown, and one set fills up a quarter of the tree skirt. I couldn’t miss tracing them this year. With all of the challenges of 2020, it’s also a year I appreciate because the memories are so distinct and clear.

Today, on Christmas Eve, I miss being part of a church family that feels like home. I miss gathering with family and seeing our parents. I miss childlike anticipation. But I’m also cherishing all of the years of memories, and thankful for the six humans and one puppy that will create a different, but still special, Christmas memory this year.

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