Christmas nails and the art of imperfection

Seasonal spirit at your fingertips

By Ellen Margulies

Ok, let’s all sing along: O Christmas nails, O Christmas nails, why are you so damn hard to do?

Not being a perfectionist takes a lot of pressure off. Not being a crapologist (one who enjoys things that turn out craptastically) puts the pressure right back on again.

Xmas nail collage


I started doing nail art when I was around 16. My BFF and I would stripe our nails in the library while we were supposed to be researching our senior papers. This was WAY before nail art was a big thing. We thought we were the stuff (and we were the stuff, too!). We did simple diagonal stripes on our long purple nails, sometimes in silver, sometimes blue — whatever we could find. Over the years I’ve done lots of nail art, on myself (hard) and others (a whole lot easier). Easter eggs in the spring, white clouds on sky-blue toes in the summer, flags for Fourth of July, Jack-o-lantern faces at Halloween, etc. But Christmas nails are always my favorite.

For our 12 Days of Christmas blog posts, I knew I wanted to do one on Christmas nail art. I have approximately 9,000 examples on my “Nailed” Pinterest board. As I said, I’ve done lots in the past — reindeer, snowmen, Christmas trees, etc. — so I wasn’t worried. I wanted to start with something simple and elegant, easy for a beginner or anyone who has aged out of the 18-49 category and no longer has the visual acuity required for, say, seven swans a-swimming on one nail bed. So I wanted to do something along these lines:


gradient nail dots
I love a good gradient dot nail. Source:











And, of course, ended up with this:


Yeah, I know it’s blurry. I was emotionally traumatized, alright?

The difficulties lie in using your non-dominant hand to create tiny works of art. Also in having somehow mysteriously developed the hand-eye coordination of a woman in her 50s. 

I had gathered all my nail supplies, including the slender-brush stripers that are so good for the small details. I don’t have the fancy stuff like dotting tools, so I decided to experiment with toothpicks. I wasn’t thrilled with the results.

I then decided to go all-dot, and color-block, and Santa-style fur trim, or possibly snow, on the nail tip, and glittery accent nail, etc. Again, wasn’t feeling it.

This is not a blog about cuticles, so cut me some slack. / Photo by Ellen Margulies

Ultimately, I realized the trial-and-error process sometimes means returning to tried-and-true. Last year, I co-opted this idea from Pinterest:


fashionsy santa nails
Now THIS could be on a blog about cuticles. Source:


I decided to do it again this year. There’s no way to screw this up (total lie, but it really is pretty easy for nail art beginners, especially if you’re doing your own). Here are the basics:

  1. Paint base color. You can go with a red, a green, a metallic, etc., with or without an accent nail color. Let dry completely.
  2. Using a white striper or a thin paintbrush and some white nail polish, daub on a border at the tip of each nail. On the accent nail, using a black striper or a thin paintbrush and some black nail polish, paint a double-width line about midway down the nail bed. Let dry completely.
  3. Using a gold or silver striper (or a thin paintbrush…), paint a square border overlapping the black stripe, either off to the side or in the center. Let dry.
  4. Finish with a top coat.



papa noel nails
Blue + silver = Pere Noel nails. / Photo by moi



I like to keep a toothpick, paper towel and some nail polish remover on hand for cleaning up messes. You can wrap the end of the toothpick in a tiny piece of paper towel and drench that in the remover to clean up cuticle overflow. Also, when you’re using a striper, be sure to get rid of all excess polish. This is delicate work here.

Anyway, I was finally happy-ish with my Christmas nails. Even we non-perfectionists beat ourselves up. But really, what’s the point of that? I’ll re-do my nails at LEAST four more times before Dec. 25 anyway. Maybe I’ll post updates here.

Look, if all else fails, can I just say, no one will judge if you go with decals or wraps. It’s STILL creative. And it will get those juices flowing. And if you still can’t even, just go straight-up festive color on 8 nails and contrasting festive accent color on two other nails. I like to do one accent nail per hand but hey, you do you.