Vicky Panossian fled Beirut eight years ago to escape Lebanon's endless civil war, leaving her father, mother and a sister behind. The claustrophobia of staying inside to hide from the shelling and the fear of being shot by snipers when she ventured outside, drove her to Canada. A few months later, she came to Los Angeles.
Despite her powerful reasons for leaving Lebanon, Panossian, an Armenian Christian, says she misses her family and her homeland. And over the years the gulf of separation from her family--as well as the long-gone, easy-going ways of pre-war Lebanon--has come to seem especially wide during the holidays, she says.
"The feeling of belonging is so important, and I didn't know that until I came here," she explains, noting that her aging parents prefer the known dangers of Beirut to the uncertainties of sprawling Los Angeles.
To fill the emotional gap, Panossian, who works for an oil company, has tried to replace the friendliness and family closeness of her best Lebanese years with the American vision of the Christmas landscape--snow-covered ground, brisk days, clear starry nights and the cozy warmth of a forest cabin in the California mountains.
"I'm substituting that (family) warmth with the snow and the stars in the sky," she says. "I guess you try to create an inner atmosphere because you don't have that togetherness . . . You can have some kind of peace with nature."
That's been her solution for two Christmases, and she plans a similar retreat this year. It will also be a welcome break from the hyper-pace and emotional grayness of city life.
"In Los Angeles you don't have time to complete your feelings," she says. "You don't have time to even miss someone."