The boy who hated Christmas

As a boy Joe hated Christmas. When he was small, Joe Eszterhas had been a refugee with his parents in Austria after the war. He hated Christmas because there were no presents, no turkey dinner, there was hardly any food to eat at all. They ate soup boiled up from pine needles and horsemeat that made him retch. The refugee camp was an ice-cold, brutal place, in which young Joe saw sights that made him grow up fast. His mother tried to teach him to pray, and told him how Jesus had died on the cross to save him.If he had come to save him, how come he was here in this camp, thought Joe, this Jesus his mother kept prattling on about must have forgotten to save little Joe Eszterhas.

He did not understand why his parents were so joyful at Christmas. Late at night on Christmas Eve, they took him out into the dark forest to a pine tree smothered in icicles. His father played his violin and his mother lit a candle as they sang an old Hungarian carol Menybol Az angyal about an angel who came from heaven to be present at the birth of the baby Jesus. As they sang, his parents cried, but little Joe was not moved. He was hungry and cold and couldn’t care less about the baby Jesus, or Christmas.

Later the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, attracted by tales of America’s streets paved with gold. But as he grew up he saw little gold and much poverty, and people whose American dream had turned sour. His mother kept trying to tell him about Jesus, and on Christmas Eve, his father would play the violin and his mother would clutch a candle as they sang about the angel. And again they cried. Joe did not want to listen to a clapped out old violin, he wanted Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. As for Jesus, he couldn’t less about him, or Christmas.

When he grew up Joe became a big-shot Hollywood screenwriter, he wrote the screenplays for films like Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge. He got married and had children.  He made millions of dollars, and he celebrated Christmas lavishly with trips to Hawaii, lots of expensive presents, and dazzlingly bedecked Christmas trees stretching to the ceiling. His mother was dead, his father was ailing, and unable to play his violin.  He barely remembered that tree in the forest bedecked with icicles. And Jesus, well who was that?

At the age of 57 Joe was one of the most successful screenwriters in the world. And at the age of 57 Joe was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was terrified, not just because of the illness, but because the doctor had told him that unless he stopped smoking and drinking immediately he would die. He knew he couldn’t do it, he was an alcoholic, smoking 80 cigarettes a day.Even after major surgery, a month afterwards all he wanted was a cigarette and a drink. It was all he thought about.

One day he went for a walk, and he sat down on the curb, feeling desolate, helpless and vulnerable and he started to cry. He was crying because he knew that as much as he loved his wife and children, he would still kill himself by drinking and smoking. He was crying as hard as his mother had cried when she sang the carol about the angel on Christmas Eve. 

And as he cried he suddenly found himself saying, “Please God, please Jesus, help,” he said it to himself over and over again. How could he? After all these years that he had disregarded Jesus and shunned him? How could he now ask Jesus to help him? How could he expect Jesus to help him after all those years when he couldn’t care less about him?

But Joe Eszterhas came to realize that regardless of what had passed, Christ loved him; Christ would help him, because Christ cared about Joe Eszterhas.

Joe has now beaten the wordly addictions that instead of giving him life were killing him. He has overcome his cancer. He attends mass every week with his wife and family. He says it strengthens him and gives him peace and solace.

And now Joe Eszterhas loves Christmas, and celebrates the birth of Christ, the Christ who extended him a helping hand and saved his life. He cares about Christmas, he cares about Jesus. And he has found a CD of that Hungarian Christmas carol about the angel who came from heaven for the birth of Jesus. He plays the carol for his wife and children on Christmas Eve. They hug their children, as she holds a candle and Joe cries.