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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. Brett

    A lot of us have been there...chin up ma'am. Keep Moving Forward.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  2. Rbudlm

    Clap, Clap, Clap, I could not agree more, it seems folks in this country don't really know what poor is any more. Being poor used to mean homeless, foodless, carless, now it means "no show stopper gift" really? Maybe just maybe, we should all give up, soda, potato chips, dinner out most nights, ciggaretes, beer, wine, liquor, pot, drugs we use to replace excersise, the 6 bedroom house, each person having their own car, each person having their own computor, each person having their own bathroom, the closet full of cloths with the tags still on them, the 4 to 6 different lessons we spoil our children with, the latest game system, a new cell phone for everyone, every two years should I continue

    December 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  3. BK

    Yes yes, teach the poor people that it's noble and spiritual to be poor so that they won't question their rich clergy.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  4. jdurand

    This hit pretty close to home.

    I lost my job in mid-October. After 7 years of relative comfort, which involved receiving twice-monthly paychecks, I now find myself without any serious prospects and dwindling financial reserves (I "might" be able to cover January's mortgage). The recruiters I have been working with keep telling me things should pick up in January, especially in the IT field, but I remain skeptical.

    At any rate, Christmas is going to be very frugal this year. Fortunately, my children are young enough so that the wish list includes very few "big ticket" items.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Another Chris

    If Chuck the Talking Dump Truck was considered a "show stopper" last year, your kids have ridiculously low standards.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • jdurand

      Depends on the age. For a 3 or 4 year old, that pure gold.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Commandrea

      Well they're obviously higher than yours, Mr. Scrooge.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • paintpaintpaint

      I THINK what Another Chris is saying, is the author isn't talking about a trip to Disnyworld. She can't even afford the little fun gifts she used to give her kids at Christmas. STOP telling her how poor YOU are or you were in your childhood. Write your own blog.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  6. Cricket

    I do not know what the answer is, but I do know that the way things are going in this country of ours today, sucks. It used to be that you got a good job out of High School or College, and you basically stayed with that job until retirement. The job became your career. You were allowed to hone your skills, baby the projects, and basically make that job yours. For some reason, today, many corporate managers do their best to take away that pride in job and make you a faceless, nameless, cog in the wheel. Probably easier to fire you that way, but what it has done to the quality of the finished work product, and the soul of working Americans, is shameful!

    December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  7. johnamerica

    RON PAUL 2012.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  8. ironhead

    Don't blame Obama or Bush for this. It's not all political. It's mostly good old fashioned American greed. 30 years of increasing the bottom line, inflating stock prices for executive bonuses all from shipping manufacturing jobs off-shore. Most of the jobs in the US these days are 'paper-pushing' or service. Very few actual products are being made. Most American corporations and their executives have effectively killed off the manufacturing base and in effect the middle class. And I really don't think any of them have lost any sleep over it.

    Granted, both the Dems and the Reps have not helped the situation but as a broad stroke, America has made it's bed and I'm really afraid it is going to sleep in this one for a long time to come.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  9. somebody

    It's holiday season, can we take money off the table for the articles? Can we write something that's more positive?

    Yes we have financial problems but let's be on the positive and change the details first.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  10. SoWhat

    Each year I threaten to cancel Christmas. This year I have due to unemployment. I do not miss it much since it is nothing more than a pain in the a s s with all the family drama and incessant TV adds. I stay away from the stores as much as possible and don't listen to Christmas music much. Year round we buy what we need when we need it and don't wait for the holidays to do it. There is no Christmas tree or lights either. I plan on a quiet family time and that is it.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  11. toby

    OK, who's the bigger she-ape, Tangela or Michelle Obongo?

    December 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • tobaloba

      Came to see how cruel some would be to this lady and, as someone else named Toby, I was very disappointed to see someone with my name essentially saying that this woman resembles an ape. Look at you with free time and all you can do for the world is add hate to it. Wish I could kick you in the nuts. All the lady really wants pertains to her children.

      December 18, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  12. Kim

    For a "woman of the cloth", she sure seems to put a lot of stock in Christmas being about gifts.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  13. Independent_me

    I am a Christian, the daughter of a Preacher man who went to "home" in December, 2001. Approximately 15 years ago I did something so revolutionary and contrary to Christmas-celebrating Christians that I was actually condemned for not being a Christian when I shared it with other Christian friends... I STOPPED celebrating Christmas. Stopped because I could not, as a Christian, justify the monetizing of a time that was supposed to represent the birth of a Savior who was born in poverty, in a stinky manger. Today, I thank God that I made that decision, and that my husband and two sons totally supported me. Instead we do special things for each other throughout the year and jokingly say "Merry Christmas!" when we do. Since then, Christmas had been guilt free, pressure free and, now that times are so tough, it had been the best, most wonderful gift to all of us! Instead of spending money and running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I fast for three days in thanksgiving for what Christ gave to us, and just relax in the knowledge that Christmas and it all its commercialism, no longer controls me... My children thank me, my husband thanks me – and I thank God for setting us free!!!

    People, I am telling you – stop with the buying of gifts and getting into debt... there are many other ways that you can celebrate the birth of Christ...remember where He was born... celebrate Him with humility and appreciation. It should be the one day of the year that we turn away from commercialism and spending money on "things"...we really don't need those "things"... and the freedom is so wonderful!

    December 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Mrs John Green

      Here, here! Me too. Just wonderful to celebrate Jesus instead of the abomination "christmas" has become.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • doodlerbug

      When I got divorced, myself and my children struggled. My spouse refused to pay a dime of support and instead disappeared. Our first Christmas we could afford one thing – a box of sugar shaped confection. The reason we bought it was that it had a silver snow flake on the top. An item, to remember that holiday. I still have it, hanging from my rearview mirror (8 years later). We instead, spend time together – no decorations, no BIG anything. I do give them $ they can spend but they buy things they need such as clothes and such. We do make each other cards and try to craft things. I made them embroidered pillow cases and they made me very nice, soft couch pillows from old shredded clothes. We talk, spend time together and it's like all of the buy-buy-buy pressure is off. My friend got me a nice book to read during this vacation and I got him one. Simple, back to the old ways of crafting or giving a simple gift. It is nice. We light some candles, and sit and talk each night. We have more than we ever did now – w/o spending $ for it.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  14. Bosox

    Where are all the true Christians, America lost tghe Christian faith in the eaZrly 60's

    December 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  15. ANITA WESTIN

    i,m hoping for a miracle too but i don,t think there one left for me lost my husband my job and no money for anybody even for me. but i hope everybody has a great holiday with there friends or family i do not even have that any more lost all my friends when my husband was sick but i took good care of him all by my self so give your friends and family a big hug or just call them and say HI.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Idunno

      Bless your heart Anita. I will pray that you find peace and comfort and that there will again be light in your life.

      December 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  16. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    The idiots who are saying that having a degree in technology or business will guarantee one a job need to get real.

    My husband has an MBA in finance. He has twenty+ years of experience. He lost his job with a company he'd worked for for over a decade and was out of work for a year. We are very lucky he found another position–there are plenty of people in the same situation who aren't so fortunate.

    If you have nothing better to do than judge this woman for being out of work and feeling the pinch, then you have no life yourself.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • toby

      You're poor!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And you're stupid. The difference is that I can do something about MY situation.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • toby

      You're mad because you're poor!

      December 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Jimmy Bond

      You can start doing something by getting off of the Interwebz.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Look, dimbulb, my husband and I are quite well off compared to most Americans. We're both employed, both have graduate degrees, own a home, two cars, pay off our credit cards to zero balance each month and well-funded retirement accounts as well as money in savings.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • toby

      I'm trolling, Tom, Tom. There's no need for you to try to "prove" your worth to me.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      There's no need for you to troll, dipwad. Get lost.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  17. J. Mike

    A shame that you don't recognize that you already have the greatest miracle, a relationship with a God who loves you! Take hope in that!

    December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  18. Seanachai

    I'm really quite ashamed of a number of responses I have seen to this op-ed. Commentary on photos, another person taking offense when the author stated she wishes she could be restrictive on lavish gift giving by choice rather than by necessity....what on earth has happened to you people, especially during this Christmas season to make you so narrow minded, judgmental and out of touch with the rest of humanity? The whole point of an opinion inspired piece is that it is written from the authors perspective. No one is asking you to agree or lavish the author with praise. She is simply telling her family's story. If you don't like it, don't believe it, or are too threatened that another may force you to remove your rose colored glasses, don't read an opinion based article in any newspaper, magazine, or book. It's that simple. Be responsible and respectful, not rude and crass.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Jimmy Bond

      She is asking people donate money through PayPal. Did you not go to her blog?

      December 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • allenwoll

      You think straight !

      December 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Zach

    Stop SOPA. It is censorship and against the American way.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhwuXNv8fJM&feature=colike

    December 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Cheeseburger

    Evil rich. Evil capitalism. Yet, our economic system has given more to more people than any other in history. There will always be the very rich and the very poor, no matter what the economic system. And there will always be people sitting around doing nothing about the evil rich while others go out there and seize the opportunity. Hey, if there is a better system, then let's here it. Until then, work with what you have.

    December 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mike Smith

      Very sensitive reply, Cheeseburger. But since you want to politicize this let me point out that since the death of Mao, the People's Republic of China has brought more people out of poverty than the total population of the United States. Meanwhile, America has more poor people than when the 'war on poverty' was started in the 1960s.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
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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.