'This made my Christmas': How a painted tree brightened an Inuvik man's holidays away from family

·3 min read

January is typically when the holiday lights and Christmas trees begin to come down, as the festive season ends.

However, Michael Fabijan, an Inuvik, N.W.T., resident of 33 years, is keeping his unique Christmas tree up to continue to spread some cheer.

What was once a blank white wall that separated his living room and kitchen is now donned with a hand-painted tree decked in ornaments crafted by family friends. Fabijan came up with the idea to paint the tree there, and enlisted friends to help spruce it up.

"Going away all the time, you never have to decorate for Christmas because you are going to someone else's house. But now I'm here, so I have to decorate," said Fabijan.

"And that's where this came from."

I'm surrounded by a great crowd of people. - Michael Fabijan

Like many, Fabijan spent his Christmas away from family, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 66-year-old said that although this is one of the first holidays he's stayed in Inuvik, the tree ended up bringing a lot of joy and a smile to his face.

Every night for about three weeks, four close families in Inuvik would come on different nights to Fabijan's home and spend time decorating the tree with him.

"I asked everyone to paint their names somewhere on the board," said Fabijan.

Cecile Bleakney, a family friend of Fabijan's, said he is like family, and decorating the tree was like a little celebration every night.

"I was amazed about the talent that went in there," she said. "[Almost] everything is handmade… very heartfelt."

Sometimes just his friends' kids would come over and paint or add something unique to the tree. A couple of the ornaments feature photos of Fabijan with the children when they were younger.

The only two ornaments that aren't handmade are one Fabijan has from childhood, and another he has from his mom.

Tree wall may be preserved for future holidays

Bleakney and Fabijan have been friends for about 27 years. Bleakney said she felt like the Christmas tree was a great way to bring Fabijan's Inuvik family together.

"Because of COVID, the group of us can't all get together," she said. "So that was our way and his way of getting together and spending time with Michael."

Fabijan said it helped make the holidays special.

"I'm lucky to have friends that will do this. I can't believe it. Everyone I know here that are close friends put something on this tree," said Fabijan.

"I'm surrounded by a great crowd of people and the tree is hilarious…. It's just a good family tree," he added. "This made my Christmas and it motivated me."

He said he also documented the progress of the tree for family members down south.

Fabijan said he always intended to renovate and tear down the wall where the Christmas tree is now painted. But instead, he's decided to try to find a way to keep the wall and bring it out during the holidays.

"It's gonna be hard to take down," he said. "To me, it's bringing my local family together at Christmas."