To me, Christmas represents more than winter holidays and the time of the year when the family gets together to have dinner and exchange gifts. Christmas is a special feeling, it’s a state of mind, a sense of nostalgia that never fades away, not because it happens every year, but because it builds on memories that we cherish most.
Now, let’s all try to take our present selves to the past, to a time around Christmas that was most memorable for us. I remember this one particular year when I was about 9 or 10 years old, in our hometown, Chinsau, Moldova. Just as every year, my sister and I put together our traditional Christmas Family Concert. We prepared a whole list of songs to sing, modern dances to the Backstreet Boys (our favorite band at the time), blasting out the speakers, some humorous plays to entertain our parents, and, of course, contests where everyone would get a chance to win a prize. Most of our prizes consisted of candy and fruit that my mom would buy and try to hide from us (that we would find of course), and she would discover our mischief in the moment of prize-giving.
As much as our Christmas that year was planned to be celebrated as usual, surrounded by our extended family, it ended up being special, as we spent it in four – my father, my mother, my sister and me. And the thing is that we didn’t do anything extraordinary that year, because we had the same tradition of eating dinner, having our rehearsed concert, playing games, watching TV, eating oranges, singing Christmas carols and looking at our Christmas tree that we loved to decorate a little excessively. The special feeling of that day came from the sole element of the four of us being together – the core of our family. My mom would always say that the best gifts are not material; they are those memories you make with the ones you love. And, as we were a family with modest income, we exchanged modest gifts. Our parents were able to make every present special, and they kept convincing us that the bags of candy and apples came from Santa himself, placing them carefully underneath the tree.
Today, more than 20 years later, my sister and I have our own families and have been living away from our parents for longer than we can remember. I was thinking about what I could offer them for Christmas this year. Same as every year, I didn’t want this holiday to be about gift exchanges, I wanted to remind them the sentiment of us being the same family that we always were – loving, caring and united. While figuring out the gift part was harder than I imagined, I realized that there’s nothing simpler than thinking about our traditional roots, our individual talents and combining them into an actual gift.
And so, I thought of my sister’s artistry, my father’s technical skills, my mom’s love for all homey and warm, and my constantly wandering mind, and I found my answer – a painting of that one picture with the four of us crammed in our armchair, my father holding my mother in his arms and my sister and I sitting on the armrests holding our precious candy and smiling largely. Knowing that in Montreal there’s one place I could go to with such a request, Painted Memories was my only answer. Fresh paint, a myriad of brushes, a painting easel, canvas around the room, painting tools – all of these bring me back to my sister’s drawing place, but only this time it will be a picture of us coming to life by the hand of an artist immersed in their atelier. From a 20th century photo taken on a tape and developed in a photographer’s studio, our picture would become a timeless painting for my parents to keep then pass on to their grandchildren. I didn’t choose Painted Memories by chance either, as they are that unique place that can metamorphose a simple photograph into a gorgeous painting for people to marvel at, as if they were in a museum. And, infusing the air with oil paint, this old photograph-turned-painting will always hang there, in my parents’ home, to remind them of something that once was, and something that keeps on living, banishing any time boundaries to endlessness.
by Ina Muntean-Bors