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. debi

    I will do an extra angel from the tree (give to the poor) for you.
    Good luck.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  2. Mike

    Go to college get a real degree STEM --science, technology, engineering, math....not artsy fartsy stuff.....the real jobs in high tech are being filled by foreign graduates and the hi tech jobs are going overseas because Americans like you are lamenting with your liberal arts degrees !!!! BTW plenty of jobs in medical field too ...

    December 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • David

      At my place we dont even interview americans for STEM jobs. Only indians need apply

      December 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      SURE there are. My friend, who holds a doctorate in a science and had a great job with a pharmaceutical research company, has just been laid off.

      You're not keeping up with the news, dude. No degree makes you immune in this economy.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  3. Christina

    What do I say to this editorial. lol. I don't know. I am sorry her family is hurting. But quite frankly, I think it will help build character in her kids to understand that there are hard times and Christmas isn't about presents, but the birth of Christ. Of course the birth of Christ is more meaningful...because now she can identify with poverty. A little bit. Instead of focusing on what she doesn't have, maybe she can focus on her kids health, the fact that they are together as a family and angel tree....and the people who will get her kids a present. Asking for charity isn't easy, and I am glad she has enough courage to set down her pride so her kids can have a nice Christmas. I will pray that this family recovers as well. But I have a feeling someday she will look back on this time, not as the worst year ever...but the best. It's in hard times that you grow. God Bless.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  4. David

    I stopped after paragraph one. Success in Parenting is about friggin short lived shreiks of happiness over some commercial drivel?

    How does that translate to preparing your offspring for lifelong success and happiness? It dont.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • yn


      December 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  5. Tchild50

    Some have forgotten the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus. They think love is shown by the amount of money spent. How sad for us all. If we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, family and friends with us, how much richer could we be? There are far too many who don't have these simple pleasures. Love is the greatest gift you can ever give anyone.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Jesus was not born in December. Your religion took this holiday from the Pagans.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • David

      In this society Santa kicks Jesus' ass any day of the week.

      FRIGGIN presents and trees are part of the SANTA Christmas....NOT the JESUS christmas. You want Jesus go to church.

      I pray to Santa for commercial throw away crap we can forget by tomorrow.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  6. Sue

    I feel for just about everyone on this list. Being a single mother of two energetic boys, having 2 Associates Degree and 1 Bachelor degree, having worked for 8 years in a "good job", it is hard. It has been 18 months now since I last held a job and it is getting hard each day that the Lord gives to me. Yes, I have eating daily, thanks to food stamps, I have had covering over my head, thanks to family, but I have not had much of any finances to do anything. I cannot even get a job at Wal-mart, Target, Toys-R-Us. I have tried them all. Yes, I have gone to two different places to review my resume, and cover letter and given me pointers to up date them which I have done. I have, like many folks applied for 100s of jobs. Job hunting has become a full time job for me. NO. I am not picky at all. I decided a few months back that I will take almost anything just to get my foot back into the job market, but nothing seems to be coming my way just yet.
    What has happened to our beautiful "first world" country. People are suffering left and right. So much for going to school, getting a degree and hoping that we will at least move out of poverty into the bottom layer of middle class. That is all a joke right now. Poverty is the new IN Thing. Social services can do so much and the Social Workers all do as if the money is being minus from their personal pay checks and that those of us who cannot make ends meet are trying to stay on WELFARE, and become lazy. I sure as hell do not want to be, much less stay on welfare. I like having my own financial blessings and enjoy knowing that I worked hard for it. I do not want to even think about returning to school, because that will only add to the student loans I have to repay and I am not guaranteed a job at the end of a Master's Degree. (Only more student loans and the agencies calling you every minute for the payment that you honestly cannot make). What is there left for us to teach our children? Is it worth it anymore to go to college or should they are study a trade instead? They might be better off and not owe the government hundreds of dollars at the end of their first four years. For those who will say, now is the time to put aside money for their education, well, guess what, I don't even have enough to take the bus, so what will I be putting aside for education. Thanks to those who can afford, who have been giving me clothes constantly for my boys, if not, I am not sure what they will be wearing. I cannot even afford Red Cross clothing, that is even too expensive for me. Whenever I do come across some $$, I try to buy pampers and necessary items for our daily living. (toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, vitamins, laundry soap, lotion, etc). There is nothing left after that to do anything.
    Finally, I am happy that we are all generally healthy and hoping that like most average people that 2012 will be somewhat different. I have never been a big holiday shopper person, so that is not much of a bother for me, but simply having money to do the basics is what I wish for, and being able to one day help those less fortunate than I am. If you believe in prayer, let us keep praying for each other. If you don't, then I will still pray for you. Let us hope that soon enough our economy will start looking up again, so that at least the poor can get a job regardless of the pay, and feel like somebody in this country again.
    Happy holidays to everyone and know that you are not the only ones suffering. Like I said at the beginning, I am a single mom and I do it all for my children that I love with all my heart. God bless AMERICA.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • David


      1. Anyone who can read and write and present themselves in a respectable way can get a job. We always forget the soft factors when we read articles about some schmoe who has been unemployed for x months or years. So, I don't believe you.

      2. If'n I had a violin. I'd rather break it then play it for you

      December 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • bluey_qld

      David I am shocked at folks like you who refuse to accept the fact that this nation is in the dumpster and say anyone can get a job if they really want one. What's your degree in ignorance or fantasy living? My God man, get your head out of the sand and take a look around. I know a few people who cannot get ANY kind of job in the areas they live in, despite the fact that they are very, if not over-qualified. Grow up son!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're wrong, David. You have no idea how difficult the job market is. Have you been out of work lately?

      December 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Stephanie

    Oh goodness they can't afford a more expensive present??? Try not getting any. I stopped getting presents for christmas when I was 7 because my family was so poor. Eventually we stopped even putting out a tree, because what's the point of getting all excited when you have nothing to give?? What do you say when friends ask you what you got for Christmas and tell you about the ipod/bike/xbox etc they got? It's a rotten holiday if you're really poor.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  8. mikew325

    I think a lot of these comments are off the mark. Ms. Ekhoff is someone who, like manyof us, tries to put the best face on a horrible situation. Humor is the best way to do this, so her focus on the Showstopper was a LOT tongue in cheek. If you actually read the article, the essence of this story is that good people are really suffering in this country. College educated people with families, churchgoing people, professional people, are hurting. Yes, they've tried MacDonalds, they've tried delivering pizza, they've tried everything, but still....good people are failing and hurting. In full disclosure, I know Tangela personally and have for 15 years and no one works harder to take care of her family than she does. No one I know thinks more about her children, her husband, and especially her community. The true point of this article though is simple. Life is getting harder for the middle class, and a caring society would and should recognize that and, for the benefit of ALL of us, get our government back on the right track.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Kevin C

      Actually, I think you are the one missing the point. This lady is lost in materialism. Plain & simple.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  9. idontthinksotim

    Just another example of what conservatives are trying to tell us. Its all about personal responsibility. If two degrees aren't enough then you should pay some rich republican for another one, and another one and anther one, so they can keep on telling you its all about personal responsibility while they are squeezing and sucking up every nickel they can smell and leaving you penniless.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  10. Missy M

    The sad thing about this article is that gifts are not meant to be a part of Christmas – Christmas is a time to rejoice in the savior's birth and turning it into something commercial sets people up for disappointment and makes it especially tough for poor people to enjoy the holiday. We do not spoil our kids at Christmas – even though we can afford the big ticket items, they aren't under our tree. We focus on simple necissities – socks and underwear, and homemade gifts. You have to teach kids young that material items aren't what make us happy in life – true happieness, like the true meaning of Christmas – can't be bought in a store. I will pray for this family because their disappointment in not being able to spoil their kids on the holiday means they are missing out on the true gift of the holiday.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  11. jetstream girl

    I sympathize with this family and all of the others that have had the rug pulled out from under their feet. Sure, it isn't about the presents, but about the fear about whether or not you will be able to pay the bills next month and how we will ever pay off the debt. I have a college degree and 30 years experience in my field. I would have liked to retire before I am totally worn out, but can't see that this will ever happen. My husband who worked his butt off and was a successful businessman was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He had no insurance and the medical bills have put us deeper and deeper into debt each month. We live very carefully and frugally, but between the low wages I make and his illness, we can't make it. So our two kids will be doing without this Christmas and probably for many to come. Be thankful for what you have...your good health, a roof over your head and the love of your family. Many people in this country don't even have that....Merry Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  12. Kevin

    I don't mean to be a killjoy here, but does ANYONE care that Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus? He wasn't even born on that day....it's common knowledge that the Christmas is full of pagan rituals and customs. Doesn't anyone even give a hoot that Christmas is probably one of the most DISHONORING days that there could be with regards to Jesus.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  13. Kevin C

    Wah...Wah...Wah...guess you're previous years of shallow materialism and not saving anything have led you to realize that you can only be happy when you have THINGS. Get over your pity party and suck it up. Maybe your kids will learn the lesson that you didn't. Happiness is not purchased at the mall. Good luck to your children..

    December 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Squeeky

      I'm sorry, it is your shallowness and cold heart showing here. Unless you are one of those whacks on Real Housewives, a normal family can't save enough to survive 2, 3, 4 years of deep un-/under-employment. Lucky you that you have never faced this. How dare you insult a family who once treated their children to a special gift once a year. You are a cold, cold scrooge there mister.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  14. Sher

    It is an odd choice of editorial to present especially when the lament is regarding no expensive presents. I can only hope this lady gets some notice locally and finds an outlet for her comedy. As for Christmas (and I am no longer a Christian, but a Buddhist), it seems to have been highjacked by retailers about 50 years ago and have become progressively more about money than a religious celebration. Further, the media reports on Christmas sales like it was a gauge of the national economy wrecking the holiday even more. Christians need to take back Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  15. Beth

    Unless we have some politicians bring jobs back to America that have been sent overseas this will continue. Unless we truly police the banks and Wall Street this will continue. Politicians talk about job creation but job creation doesn't happen through magic. American businesses moved overseas. This could be reversed through political means but no politician (not right or left) talk in a meaningful, REALISTIC way about anything related to anything that would truly create any jobs.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  16. JLo

    It amazes me that after the fact of losing work or unable to find work that is when ppl start looking for church & prayers. Ppl lush over the material of giving instead of being thankful of the food there are presently eating & roof over there head. We were never designed to be receiving but only designed to be giving (messengers) I'm grateful my kids & I are grateful & the food we will share on the holidays. Our gift to each other is... Thankful we are alive.

    p.s. please don't shoot the messenger
    Happy Holidays everyone

    December 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  17. Markymarc

    My dilemma this Holiday Season is which of my $5000 watches to wear to each event! I am buying another one this week so where is my sympathy for this increasingly complex decision!

    December 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  18. Jeff Bezos

    Free book about this topic http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0066XU74E/

    December 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  19. Autumn

    I know this lady and her family are not as bad as others around the world, but this brings to perspective the tradition of Christmas. The gifts we exchange this time of year, is nothing more than a luxury. The true blessing of Christmas is knowing that we are still here, at the end of a long year. My life is not at al bad. I am happy, and lucky to be amung the living, and this year the higher power did not take the life of me or any one that I love. We can either celebrate the glories of the year the past, or we can learn from the tragedies that did occur. Christmas is about the learning curve of life. We give big extravegant gifts when we have nothing else to worry about.

    December 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  20. Cassandra Chu

    ... i'm surprised that jewish CNN is running an article about christmas. usually they just promote israel and bash arabs with racist propaganda...

    December 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • puhbah

      Oh, yes, the Jews run all the media! This is why you see all those shows about Jews: all the sitcoms showing Jewish families, all the dramas showing Jews running for cover, All Jew, All the time. Boy, doesn't it bother you to walk around with all that hostility?

      December 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Squeeky

      Your tinfoil hat is leaking again CC.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:57 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.