By Thomas Lee
(Editor Note: Be Curious, My Friend is a semi-monthly column that will often tackle the issue of mental health)
When I was a child, someone gave me the best birthday gift ever: a Mickey’s Christmas Carol book with an accompanying 45 record.
Scrooge McDuck (of course) played Ebenezer Scrooge, Mickey Mouse played Bob Cratchit, and Goofy played Jacob Marley.
My birthday falls in December so the book/record was very appropriate for the season. Thinking about that gift, it reminded me how much I loved this time of year: birthday and Christmas in the same month!
Although our family was filled with abuse and trauma, we were all united in our love for the holidays. Even my dad had the Christmas spirit; he liked to play Santa when handing out the presents — even when I was well into adulthood.
“Ho…ho …ho ….” he said one year.
“Dad, there’s no here under the age of 25,” I said.
Then everything went dark and cold. After my sister Linda died of cancer one November, my parents stopped decorating the house. I lost my job one week before Christmas. My closest sister Julie and I fell out and we no longer speak to each other. So I stopped visiting home and spent Christmas by myself.
So a period that I once loved became a trigger for trauma, regret, and loneliness. One Christmas Eve, I was browsing the Disney Plus streaming service when I came across … Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the animated film!
I watched the movie, which was only 20 minutes, much shorter than I remembered. In any case, it was a bad move.
During both the sad and happy scenes, I wept uncontrollably. The tears poured out of my eyes like a kitchen faucet that someone forgot to turn off.
Can you imagine that? A forty something adult man bawling at an animated duck portraying a character from a Charles Dickens novel?
“Man, I got to get it together,” I thought.
So it was obvious that the holidays were going to be a big problem for me, at least from a mental health standpoint.
I needed to do something. One day several years ago, I started to look at air fares to Europe around December. I discovered a round trip flight from San Francisco to Dublin, Ireland on Delta for only $260!
I quickly booked it. There were several advantages to traveling to Europe in December. The tickets were cheaper. The crowds were thinner. And Europeans really know how to do Christmas with their decorations and public markets. There is also a distinct old school vibe to Christmas in Europe that sharply contrasts with the crass commercialism of America.
I had such a great time in Dublin that I decided to make it an annual thing: Iceland in 2017, Paris in 2018, London in 2019, Copenhagen in 2021, and Berlin in 2022.
I started another annual tradition by writing a list of observations of each city on Facebook.
Here’s what I wrote for Dublin and Belfast:
1. Dublin founded by Vikings
2. Dublin means “black pool”
3. Wi-Fi sucks
4. So do the bathrooms
5. Pubs are really cozy and friendly, no meat markets
6. Phrases “daytime robbery” and “raining cats and dogs” originated from this country
7. “Have some craic (sounds like crack)” means to have some fun
8. Irish breakfasts really do taste like cardboard
9. Street signs and clocks are nowhere to be found
10. Lots of dog sh*t in Belfast
11. Black Taxi tour guides in Belfast may or may not have been members of the IRA
12. Guinness alcohol content much higher overseas than in Ireland
13. Teeling whiskey distillery, which opened in 2015, is the first distillery in Dublin since the 1970s
And here’s one from Paris:
1. Bakeries and cheese shops abound
2. Lots of mopeds and vespas
3. Every restaurant is gorgeous
4. French Revolution is still very big around here
5. French people are just really unhappy, depressed Italians
6. Lots of French flags
7. Restaurants to French are what pubs are to Irish: center of social life
8. French seem preoccupied with the past (see #4 and #6) Weight of history hangs heavy
9. French restaurants put spoons into my glasses when I order Coke. And only bottles. No evidence soda cans exist in the city
10. French regard Americans as loud and shallow
11. People really do carry paper grocery bags with large pieces of bread sticking out
12. Taxi cabs have ZERO reservations driving down very narrow cobblestone streets jammed with people
13. Roads have no discernible lanes other than what drivers make of it
14. French seemed highly confused when I ask for coffee with cream and sugar
15. French very adept at designing large boulevards and plazas for people like me to gawk
16. French people NEVER drink coffee with dessert. Only after
17. Every building looks stately, grand, and important
I wouldn’t describe these trips as vacations but rather mental health lifelines. When I immerse myself in all of the history, culture, and atmosphere of a European city, my mind stretches beyond itself, reminding me that the world is so much bigger than the dark confines of claustrophobic depression. There is so much to see, to learn, to taste, to feel and I barely cracked the surface.
I could, of course, go to Europe any time of the year. But December is the time of the year when I am most vulnerable, the most susceptible to going down this confounding rabbit hole of grief and trauma.
In two weeks, I will leave for Rome. On the docket: Vatican Museums, day trips to Tuscany and Pompeii, and lots and lots of pasta.
And each time I make this annual pilgrimage to Europe, I reclaim a little bit of a time that used to bring me so much anticipation and joy.
It’s something that Mickey and his friends could surely appreciate.
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