My Take: Being poor on Christmas
December 17th, 2011
11:59 PM ET

My Take: Being poor on Christmas

Editor's Note: Tangela Ekhoff is an inspirational speaker, comedy performer and ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. She blogs about marriage, motherhood and life in Oklahoma at Homegirl on the Range.

By Tangela Ekhoff, Special to CNN

(CNN) - For my husband and me, the crown jewel of success as parents is the shrieks and wanton joy that come when our children open presents on Christmas morning. It’s enough to breach the dams in my eyes. Every year, my husband (the better shopper) picks one big-ticket gift for our boys, the one we call “the Showstopper!”

The Showstopper is the present that is either No. 1 on their wish list or the one they didn’t even know they wanted, until they make confetti of the shiny paper that conceals the happiness wrapped inside. The Showstopper is THE gift. It’s so awe-inspiring that it causes an intermission to present-opening and signals the point when the boys forsake all other gifts to play with the Showstopper. Last year, it was Chuck the Talking Dump Truck.

This year, there will be no Showstopper.

I wish I could say we are avoiding the Showstopper out of solidarity for Americans who are too poor to afford Christmas. I wish we were that socially conscious. This year, the Showstopper will not be part of the Ekhoff family Christmas, because this year, we are the poor.

We moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to my husband’s childhood home of Owasso, Oklahoma, with high hopes and great expectations for opportunity. It is not going as well as we hoped. We have applied for several hundred jobs between us. I was rejected for a job at a chicken restaurant. I am from Alabama. I was born with a frying pan in one hand and a hunk of lard in the other. I’m still mad about not getting that job.

In a former life, my husband was a computer technician. In this life, he slings pizza, rakes leaves, shovels snow, cuts grass and bakes cakes, but it still is not enough money to pay for basics, let alone any utility bills. I use both of my worthless college degrees as microfiber cloths to fight grime as a house cleaner, and out here in Oklahoma, people are not as willing to pay for this service as they are in the South. I speak publicly and perform comedy, but gigs are harder to come by than we originally anticipated.

We thought the move to Oklahoma would turn it all around and send us sashaying back into our middle-class life. Instead, it has given us the final shove into the abyss of poverty. For us, 2011 has been the Worst. Year. Ever.

This is also the first year in the history of our family that we will not buy gifts for some unknown poor child as part of an Angel Tree project. Every year, we would buy hats, socks, mittens, jackets and/or toys for some poor child.

This year, at some church or business in our town, there are two construction paper Christmas stockings hanging on an Angel Tree with our sons’ wish list printed on them. This year, our sons are “those poor kids.” This year, if there is a Showstopper, it will not be purchased by us but by a generous, anonymous individual or family with the means to help us, the underprivileged family.

On the Christian calendar, the season leading up to Christmas is known as Advent. During Advent, Christians pray and light candles to remind us to wait expectantly and prepare for the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, Advent is more meaningful to me than ever. This year, our family has lost so much, and I continually pray for a miracle. As our family awaits the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we anticipate and long for a better world not just for us but for others who suffer in the “new” economic reality: poverty.

My greatest hope, as we await the birth of Jesus, is that God restores our family financially. Yes, it’s selfish. I am grateful the Angel Tree project is available to provide my children and hundreds of children in my town with presents this Christmas. But, selfishly, I pray that next year there will be no Angel Tree. My husband and I are both intelligent and hard-working. We want nothing more than to provide for our children.

As we struggle with the new normal, we pray (yes, selfishly) that during this Advent, as we wait for Jesus’ light to shine upon the world, that a sliver of that miraculous light will shine on our little family. Like a child anticipating the rapturous joy of opening presents on Christmas morning, I hold on to my faith and anticipate a rebirth, a renewal, a restoration for our family.

I expect a miracle. And in this season of Advent, miracles happen every single day.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tangela Ekhoff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Christmas

soundoff (1,294 Responses)
  1. Rch

    So you feel you are a failure as a parent if you cant afford to buy some expensive "showstopper" gift this christmas? This is what i hate about christmas, this big greedy materialistic race to buy more more more. Perhaps this would be a good time to teach the kids that happiness is not derived from "things". Your family and the time you spend together is far more valuable than some toy truck that would be broken or forgotten this time next year.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  2. Sandy

    We should all be thankful that we live in a wonderful country, where the poorest of the poor live much better than most people in the world. We've all won the lottery by being able to live in this country and we are all part of the 1% of the world that have the most wealth. Let's be thankful for all that we have! Christmas should be about spending time with the people you love and not about buying gifts. I hope that Tangela and her husband are both able to find jobs and that 2012 will be a wonderful year!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  3. Roses

    While I sympathize with Mrs. Ekhoff and understand her desire to provide her children with magical Christmas memories, I have to say the root problem is not greed, as so many have mean-spiritedly pointed out, but a maybe a lack of judgement and acceptance of reality. To think you were going to be able to replicate the lifestyle you enjoyed in Montgomery, Alabama in Owasso, OK is not realistic. I hope you and your husband are exploring the Tulsa job market. With Tulsa being more than double the size of Montgomery, it seems you both should be able to find something that uses your degrees and professional experience. I understand the desire to live in your hometown. I would prefer to live in my hometown in rural Kansas, but it just is not realistic. I have to go where the jobs are, which is near large population centers. I wish you and your family all the best. We are all struggling out here - one job loss away from poverty. The American Dream of getting an education and working hard will provide a prosperous life is as illusional as Santa Claus.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  4. Laurie Rountree

    It is sad to see that nearly all of the responses are mean spirited. My interpretation was that this article was about how quickly our lives can change. The reader who suggested these folks should have saved more when they both had good jobs knows zero about what led up to this situation, this total change in lifestyle. It doesn't take very long to deplete savings and with young children and possible student loans, how many people are able to save enough to continue to live a normal life for very long? But it also showed me how cold are the hearts of many. I hope that this bright, educated, articulate woman and her husband find good jobs next year and are able to begin the path back. For the recored, I am a conservative Republican.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • antichrist i am

      these same people were making a lot of money.and didn't care about those who were poor.and that was not mean-spirited.now,when they don't have,everyone should be symphatetic.why?

      December 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • John

      I couldn't agree more. So many here seem to have a reason as to why this has happened to these people. Somehow it is their own fault or they just didn't think things through or, and I can't believe I read this, because they didn't wait until they had a mid six figure bank account to have children. If only that poster's parents had exercised the same restraint. It's Christmas folks. We should all try to remember that God doesn't care a fig about politics

      December 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Elaine

    I am right there with you...Someone hire me or my husband!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  6. me

    It's sad that their faith makes them vote republican, and the republicans are the ones keeping them down, making them resort to religion to feel better. Educate everyone and our country can grow.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  7. Md S H Khan

    Very well written! It touched me and gave me a strange feeling of dejavu...

    December 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  8. PorkNBeans

    As unpopular as it might seem, I feel for this woman and her family.
    I have news though. We've been there for 4 years now. Prayer doesn't work...Don't waste your time.
    This year, we'll not have a tree.
    Just where the Republicans wanted us. Merry Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Ursula

      Never say prayer doesn't work. It isn't the prayer that doesn't work, it's your lake of faith that isn't working.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Mike

      Hey Ursula.
      Prayer doesn't work. It's something churches know too, which is why they get off their butts and go on missions.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Allison

      Reply to PorkNBeans:
      Yes, blame it on the Republicans. *eye roll*
      I suppose I could say "typical lib" of someone to say that, but then I'd be falling right down to the level of the very group of person (right and left wings alike) who got us in the position. Stop blaming one side or the other and get over yourselves. The amount of whining on both sides is amazing. Me me me me me me me me, it's all about me me me me me. That's all I hear when the finger-pointers start.

      We are all responsible for our own well-being.

      Reply in general:

      I feel for this woman and her family. It was kind and selfless of her to make another kids' Christmas meaningful when they could afford it. I hope that things turn around and she's able to do that again. Anyone who is able to speak with comedy and as an inspirational speaker when going through hard times is tougher than most, and those are the ones who will get through this. I have faith that things will change for you, Mrs. Ekhoff.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  9. Stacey

    why not make this a life lesson!!! Your children will benefit from your honesty and perhaps allow them to feel grateful for what you do have- you and your husband's and their lives together and the fact that you are all healthy. I know what you are going through, but it sounds like you are resilent, use that to teach your children about life's unpredicatability. Its ok really ok not to get what you want. I think the Universe is telling all of us to stop wanting so much. At least your children are not drinking bad water or are malnurished. Count your blessings, learn the true lessons of Jesus. and please remember This too shall pass. God bless.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  10. Karen

    The "crown jewel of success as parents" is seeing your children grow up to be good, decent human beings that make you proud – NOT listening to shrieks as they open Christmas gifts. I have been poor and I have been homeless with 2 children and never did I base my skills as a parent on what gifts I could give my children.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  11. Jack

    I would vote for change if I were them

    December 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • CarolSong

      So,,,, hmmmm. Wondering if they had saved that super present money and saved some of this great money they were making back then, how things might be different now. Frankly this story is a turnoff. Regretting not being able to create another generation of greedy consumers who don't handle their money well is not something I want for my kids for Christmas.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  12. jon

    I consider myself as having a middle class childhood...I don't remember a "showstopper" Christmas gift. I grew up happy and appreciative of whatever I did receive. I remember the great family get togethers most...and that is what is important. All the expensive gifts in the world won't take the place of having two parents that love you. A great deal of children today can't say that, and that's why society has declined.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  13. LH

    In Germany when unemployment is high worker hours are reduced and jobs shared. Shared sacrafice for all. Iam sorry. I forgot,our congress can't agree 2+2=4.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  14. sgm

    The media feeds us this "image" of what Christmas morning is supposed to be and when we, as parents, can't live up to that image we feel like failures. Don't buy into that, Tangela. I've been there, too. It hurts. We want to see our children's faces bursting with joy. But you can see that same joy in your child's face by turning into a tickle monster and tickling him until he laughs so hard tears come out of his eyes. Your kids will barely remember Christmas presents when they grow up. What they will remember is the love their parents gave them and the character and values they've learned. .I hope you and your husband find jobs soon and things will turn around for you. If it's any consolation, one year we went all out and spent a small fortune on our son. What was he playing with 15 minutes after he opened his lavish gifts? The empty boxes.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  15. atticusfinch

    It sounds as if you have a loving husband and 2 great kids, and that is something money can't buy. There are a LOT of people with money, but would trade everything they own to have what you have. You're the top 10% ....and you don't even know it.

    One of the worst articles I have read. Ever.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • DEC1

      I couldn't agree more. This is a shameless attempt at soliciting the 'showstopper' gift that she references.Why is it always about what we don't have vs. what we do? We grew up fairly poor and didn't even realize it until we became adults. That didn't stop us from having enjoyable childhoods that resurrect warm memories... She needs to embrace the reason for the season and forget about the material things.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  16. JAN

    I admire her for her honesty but I don't understand what has happend to American's. We should not be in this state things should be better. I would like to retire but cannot because we could not make ends meet. My husband is retired but I don't have that luxury – YES I am grateful for my job but I will be 66 next year and enough is enough. I have three grandson's that I have not been able to visit for three years. We live in California and it is the worst state ever. Cannot save a dime. Yes I feel for Tangela and I wish her only the best and I hope it comes soon for her.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  17. DCE

    Yep, this Christmas is a no money to spend affair for me. I too am turning to Craigslist five to ten times a day. I have hung flyers, done moving jobs, been a carpet layers helper, among other things. It's hard, but no matter what, I will keep praising the Lord! I am actually quite glad that I am not caught up the santa rat race. It has no appeal to me whatsoever.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  18. Lisa

    Ms. Ekhoff – I will be praying for you and your family as well. Merry Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  19. shelley farrell

    Terribly terribly hard times for so many people.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  20. Mike

    Wealth first, children second, problem solved.

    Harsh, but it works. I'm waiting till we have 300k in the bank before we have kids.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • sdk

      And when you lose 200k because the FDIC only insures the first 100k? What then? Just do us a favor and get sterilized.
      Money doesn't equate to knowing how to raise a child.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Mary

      Unless your income already puts you well into the upper class, you're going to have to marry someone half your age to have those kids. If you marry someone your own age, she'll be way past menopause before you have the money for her to get pregnant.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • draxta

      Man plans and God laughs.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Mike

      Having children IS A CHOICE.

      No one is putting a gun to your head and saying, "have a child, be impoverished the rest of your life."

      Children are expensive. Having a kid and then complaining that you are poor is really, really stupid.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Rachel

      Good luck, but 300k isn't "wealth" if you plan to put wealth before kids. The kids will quickly cost you more than that.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Bob

      Mike this article wasn't about a poor family having children that put them deeper in economic strife. It's about a family that had an economic reversal. It could happen to you as it could happen to anyone. I have experienced poverty and riches in my life and although I would agree that money can serve as a protection I also realize that money can never give you the joy that a child can. My only regret in life is not starting my family earlier. I may someday have a grandchild but I will never see my great grandchildren.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • elsie

      And what happens as the economy continues to evolve and most people spend their entire childbearing years trying to obtain that wealth? Most people - by definition, average - will never be in a place where financial insecurity is unlikely. Are only the wealthy supposed to have children now?

      December 18, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.