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. Tammy in SC

    Your Christmas will be good. Your family will have one another and your health. One of my best childhood memories is of when my mother gave us Christmas presents in July because she didn't have the money in December to buy gifts. Our presents were bought on layaway.
    My 19 year old daughter ( a 13 yr brain cancer survivor) began having strokes this year and my gift is to hear her responding to "Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? I haven't been able to work due to her poor health and won't be able to buy her a gift (a Wii fit would help so much) and there is no Angel tree for 19 yr olds.
    Count yourself as blessed. Very blessed. Hug and kiss your family. Thank God you live in America (a blessing for those who are poor or in poor health.) Life is still good.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  2. laurie

    So sad. It must be heartbreaking to not be able to get things for your children at Christmas. I'm so glad my kids are grown. But I think we are set up by corporate America to feel like if we don't spend a ton of money we fail as parents. Don't play their game. Make new traditions for the Christmas season that don't include high priced crap that will be thrown in a closet a week after Christmas. Kids just want time with their parents, make memories instead of debt.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  3. antichrist i am

    chosen people don't have showstopper.that kids are dying of hunger around the world is not important,only these little jerks must have awsome stuff.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  4. IceT

    A few years back I was divorced & raising 3 small kids on my own. My company closed about 5 months before Christmas & I hadn't yet found another job. I got my kids used skates & a few used toys that I fixed & cleaned up, my kids remember that Christmas as one of their best. Imagine, a great Christmas without piles of new things & without attending church. Happiness comes from ourselves.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  5. Barbara

    Amagination is what is needed for the person who wrote the article. When my children where small one year at christmas i couldnt even afford a christmas tree..I wasnt working,the stress was unbelievable. A friend had told me about a christmas tree lot was hiring people to sale there trees! I talked to the owner of the trees and asked if i could work a few days for a christmas tree for my kids for christmas,the job turned out that i worked for them the month of dec except christmas..I was able to buy my kids a few presents from that job that year..My point is there are lots of ways to make christmas special i have learned.. I have even made homemade gifts that are doorstoppers,quilts,dolls,doll cloths,sweaters,scarves,etc..Some you have to start making the beginning of the year,but your heart goes into the gift and to me that is a door stopper..I wish the writer of the article and there family a very merry christmas and a happy new year and hope they have better oppurtunities come there way. In these times it is not easy right now.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Bill

      I had my own " Hard Candy Christmas " as a child. My parents had lost everything, our house, cars, all gone. Prior to that we had a very upper class lifestyle. We went from a nice home and new cars to a junk rental home and an old Nash Rambler. My big gift, and only gift, was a pair of socks. The thing that hurt the most was toe sadness in my mother's eyes. Now 50 years later I am well off by most standards. My Christmas shopping is done in toy stores where I purchase toys for the Salvation Army. Everyone should have a tough time in their life at some time or another to really appreciate the good times and realize that life is not always fair. We that can should always try to help those that are down. My father was a drunk, that is why we lost everything. That is the case with many of the children that I help, but they should not suffer because their parents are not responsible.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  6. SearingTruth

    "We were to be rewarded according to our works, and most justly so.

    A home, an abundance of food, an abundance of hope for our children, and a luxury of joy to be shared by all.

    Not for only the few, as it always had been before.

    And is again."

    A Future of the Brave

    December 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  7. Aussiestang

    XMAS has become a day with a price tag on it. People spend as much as they can either on a lot of gifts, or one or a few expensive ones. I think most people have had a poor XMAS. Life just goes that way. It makes us humble and should make us understand the real reason for the holidays, be grateful for what we have, love our family and our friends, and enjoy the time together. I have had a couple XMAS's with absolutely nothing. My first XMAS alone I was in the AIR FORCE and in Germany. I was there 2 weeks. No presents, no family, no friends, no food, and no decorations in my dorm room. It was one of the loneliest days of my life. But it made me stronger and realize that having all those presents and having friends and family around, was very special. We take these things for granted, and when taken away, its devistating. This year will be a good year, although my family is gone now, and our kids have moved out and in the military. Just myself and my wife, which is just fine with me. There are presents under the tree and our dogs are happy too. Merry XMAS all.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • IceT

      I'm withya aussie, happiness is born of hard times. A person cannot truly appreciate good times without first knowing bad. And I asume that with xmas figuring prominently in your post you know happiness without the need for religion to tell you when you're happy ... good for you, you've got it together.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • eg

      strenght & honor

      December 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  8. If horses had Gods ...

    In this economy, who leaves a comfortable life where you can afford a "showstopper" to move somewhere without a job waiting?!

    December 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  9. Jim

    Well written. You are not alone. Most of America are in the same boat – about 99% of us if you believe the protesters. The solution has not changed since the birth of our nation: work hard, vote intelligently. Pres Obama started us on a path out of economic collapse, and got us half way there before the 2010 GOP takeover. Now, the middle class is rapidly dying. I, too, have an advanced degree in a previously high demand field. Unemployed for over a year, despite innumerable interviews. I have applied for service jobs, trash collection as well as jobs in my field, and still have not found anything. The Middle Class is Dying, and I put 100% of the blame on the GOP. President Obama, I still believe, but it is getting shaky. GOP – you are nothing but the party of hate and theft and have destroyed my country. I will not forgive you.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Realist

      Jim, do you have a clue. Now, why exactly do you think the republicans swept into office in 2010? Uh, maybe the same reason that Obama swept into office in 2008....people are disgusted. To blame this on the GOP.....or the Dems is ridiculous. Obama couldn't lead his way out of a paper bag. We need a great leader.......and we need term limits for Congress......until then......it's back to Hope and Change!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • John

      Jim you are 100 % correct.
      As the Ekhoff family and many,many,many more are struggeling each day.
      Worked for over 40 years and because the rich, the greedy, the GOP we could loose everything.
      Watched a program on Current (a cable station) about how there are two Americas.
      I know which i am and still I "cry" for others as they suffer a downhill trip, while those very few who still make money
      often of the backs of us 99% keep on going and support the "rightests GOP line" of saying: "NO, NO.NO"
      Not much to wish for this year...maybe only the fact to stay alive (after all we have no health insurance either).
      America you are and can do better than this!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  10. Klw

    Also, what's all this nonsense about toys? Toys make kids happy. So in those Christmas movies when Santa gives a kid a toy and their face lights up does it disgust you? Do you really think that that little kid is some greedy godless materialist? Listen to what you're saying.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jim

      How much hate do you need in your personal philosophy to deny a child a toy at Christmas?

      December 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Terrance Wood

      You're judging children, by their want for toys? Here's an idea, stop worrying about those kids. My Father has no quarrel, with their enjoyment of toys. It's not like they're attached to their toys, like an adult is attached to their drugs and alcohol, more often than not. I'd start worrying about your own problems, and stop worrying about others, using hypocritical thinking skills.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  11. Andrea M

    Shouldn't you have maybe "prayed" (by which I mean researched) about jobs in the BFE town before you moved there? And maybe instead of spending time praying, you should use those couple extra minutes to fill out one extra application. Maybe you could have spent those minutes now freed from prayer bartering with a toy store owner with something like "I'll stock and clean for x number of hours if you'll give me this and that toy." Point is, there are a hell of a lot more productive things to be doing than holding your hands together and talking to your invisible friend. Do you really think God cares about your particular issue, considering he doesn't even seem to be too bothered with bigger problems like wars, famine, and disease?

    Also, since when do kids require some huge "showstopper" present? I got a bike one year, but other than that I somehow made due in my 90's childhood (the time of plenty) with new pajamas or a Barbie or two. Maybe this is a suprise, but kids like creative play toys that can last for hours which is why the box the gift came in is often better used than the toy itself. A huge showstopper gift is nothing but a momentary excitement to a kid. Doing something like that is much more for the gratification of the parents. Grow up, stop patting yourself on the back or weeping because you can't spend a bazillion dollars on toys, by mid January your kid won't care.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Klw

      yeah and these kids got a talking plastic dump truck as their "showstopper." You're twisting around what was written.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jim

      What kind of hate-filled, bigoted sociopath would deny a child a toy at Christmas?!

      December 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Rinsewind

      Enjoy kicking people while they're down? Sheesh.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Liz

      Obviously, the author is quite religious, so no, her time would not have been better spent filling out an extra application. I'm an atheist with respect for others' beliefs.

      A talking dump truck for two boys is about on par with what your normal gifts were, and far less expensive than a bicycle. She's applied for fast-food jobs; pride and unwillingness to work is not an issue here. They weren't doing great in the south, taking a risk and moving somewhere else wasn't a bad decision – moving to that area of the country, not a very good idea, but if you're unhappy with your current situation you should make a change.

      Regardless of your beliefs about this time of year, try having some respect and compassion. Maybe even year-round.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Gia

      Wonder if it was the absence of the 'showstopper' item in your 90s childhood that left you this bitter – so sad.

      The article author may come back into some money some day; as for you losing the thundering dark cloud above your head, not so sure. Enjoy the holidays as much as you can.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • skysgirl

      What is wrong with you? Prayer is the best thing any of us can do. If you don't believe.....why do you celebrate at all?

      December 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • complusive grammarian

      I agree with most of what you say....but I believe you meant to to say you "...made do...". Otherwise you were making a reference to a debt owed, or a future planned event.....

      December 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Karen

      You seem to have missed the point entirely.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • KS

      Wow, dial it down a bit. If you paid any attention at all, the "showstopper gift" she mentioned (as an example of what she's talking about) is a talking dump truck. It retails for $20 online. Seems to me, the bike you got probably cost way more than that. Heck, even a Barbie and a pair of pjs (your "little" gifts) cost more than that today.

      And really, "why don't you spend this minute filling out 'one more application'"? What, the several hundred they collectively filled out wasn't enough for you? But...just one more would be, right?

      Btw, have you even tried to barter with a toy store? This isn't Mayberry. You'd get laughed right out the door.

      Everyone has periods of good and bad in their lives. Why don't you quit being so sanctimonious and try some compassion, especially at this time of year?

      December 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Andrea M

      *Sigh* Do none of you get it?! Kids are creative, they don't need fancy presents, a talking dump truck doesn't offer nearly as many hours of play as say, a blanket and couch cushions for a fort. Am I saying give kids fort equipment for christmas, no. What I am saying is the focus on some fancy present is misguided and only there for the parents to feel good. I'm not advocating denying presents, just that the latest coolest spendy toy isn't necessary. As for applications and bartering, what if that one application is the job she finally gets? Seems like it would make time filling out the app way more worthwhile to chatting with god. And yes you CAN barter with small businesses. There's a great fabric store near my place that has a girl who works in exchange for fabric and this is in a major city. The business gets an extra worker off the books and the worker gets what they need, it's a private exchange that can work well for both parties. So you go to an independent toy store (yes, they exist still) and try to work out a deal, it's very simple.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  12. Kelly Ashton

    God Bless You Girl......I was moved by your story and your talent. This Christmas is a bit tight for us as we have had many unexpected expenses. Our yacht had to be towed back to the mainland when it broke down during our stay in the Bahamas. My daughter was so humiliated by the experience, we had to stay an extra week to allow her 8 hours a day of intense spa treatment. I can tell you, it was truly a night mare. When we did return to our penthouse, the interior decorator used all the wrong colors and fabrics and we had to start from scratch. My husband, being being a CEO of a large corporation, is just not able to stay in a place that is under renovation. So, to make a long story short, we had to move out (I had a headache for a week) and find another penthouse to rent during this crazy holiday madness. Honey, you can't even imagine the stress I was under as I awaited word that the movers, maids, chef, butler and driver would do their jobs and make this horrid mess go away. Until you have been there, you just don't understand. Just yesterday we finally got things in order and good news was delivered. We will be able to hold our annual Christmas Eve celebration for our 380 closest friends. See honey, miracles do happen everyday. Keep your chin up and good things will come your way. Merry Christmas. I am putting good thoughts your way.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • skysgirl

      People like you....need not reply!

      December 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  13. myresponse

    I am sorry that so many are suffering this Christmas. My dear husband passed away this year, and this will be our first Christmas without him. The pain is unimaginable. The youngest of our three children is still eagerly anticipating Christmas, but for myself I would rather skip it if it weren't for them. I am in school to help secure a better future us, and at least we still have our house. We will manage, and take things one day at a time. I hope for a better future, health, and prosperity for everyone in the next and following years.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • jim

      I am so sorry for your pain. I hope everything looks up for you in the coming year. Time will dull the pain. Live for your children, they are your hope and your salvation.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  14. Klw

    There's a double standard in these comments. Materialists berating her for materialism. You have to be a materialist to be a Republican. Just admit it – you don't care whether she spends money on presents – that's the backbone of capitalism, your precious system. What you care about is calling her lazy – because the idea that the poor are lazy and the rich are all hard workers is what justifies capitalism. If it is possible for someone to do honest, hard work and still be poor (like this woman), then your entire ideology is false. So if she's poor, there has to be some excuse for it that puts all the fault on her. How can you criticize someone for the desire of money when your entire system runs on greed?

    December 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • aidenf77

      It's easier to blame the victim than it is to change your entire entrenched ideology. Republicans are proof of that time and again.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Fred

      Quit turning this family's plight into some baseless attack against the very system that has allowed you to enjoy many luxuries that other, command economies don't get. Is it her fault that she's lacking funds? From what I've read, no, but it's not capitalism's fault either, it's the greed and corruption behind the principle that is making it flounder. By the way, Democrats are fully behind capitalism too. . . so if you don't like capitalism, maybe you should move to North Korea.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Klw

      You're right – it's the greed behind capitalism that leads to abuses. But capitalism runs on greed, you see. No greed, no capitalism. By the way, capitalism isn't the only alternative to capitalism. My ideal economic system is something like Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom," not communism. When I refer to "capitalism" as a bad thing, I'm talking about laissez-faire/corporate/grow-or-die capitalism – our current system.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Klw


      December 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Gia

      The backbone of capitalism is very eloquently explained in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. That pure form of capitalism – nothing wrong with that system, it's superior to socialism in spades.

      The problem with what's going on today in this country is that this is no longer capitalism. It's a perversion therein, a system that allowed mortgages "guaranteed' by people with no funds to be packetized and traded at exorbitant prices – trash for gold, a financial system destroyed. Furthermore, the execs who made terrible business decisions, bringing corporate giants to their knees, got REWARDED for doing so, remember? Their corporations – we bailed them out, no?

      That isn't capitalism. Capitalism rewards shrewd, calculated risk-taking, and excellence. It does not reward failure. Ergo – not capitalism at work in the States anymore...

      December 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  15. OakRockers

    It's unfortunate what you're going through but it reflects reality for so many. What's also tragic is that people believe that voting Conservative will fix anything. If you want more of this same trend, vote Conservative. Because the way to go forward into the 21st century is by continuing to stand and look backward into the 18th, 19th and 20th. Stupid fools.

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

      I don't recall Obama doing much in his first few years when he had a liberal majority, although to be honest, I don't really prefer either party.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • RHO

      Why would anyone consider voting for more of what Obama has given us? If you are driving into a swamp you should consider turning around driving out. It has gotten progressively (pun intended) worse under the absolute debacle that is Obama.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • skysgirl

      Never look back!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • OakRockers

      It takes massive energy to stop a collision course and set it on a clear path to recovery. Obama has done that. Things are now slowly improving. He took over the helm of a sinking ship and prevented complete calamity. If a Republican wins in November, they will inherit a ship that has been uprighted and is back on course.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • OakRockers

      That is, until they try to sink it again with their bad policies.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  16. alex

    I am very sorry for any judgmental posts that I made earlier. I am a Christian and should know better that pass judgment on anybody.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  17. PurpleDogMommy

    Ms. Ekhoff,

    How can we help?

    Chicago, IL

    December 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Ms. Ekhoff

      Oh, lawdy, child! Yu can hep me by sendin' munny! Uh huh. I needs lots o' munny.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  18. mjhandlovits

    To all that are negitive about Tangela's situation- Christmas is a time of giving and giving with the heart means you don't ask questions about what they're going to do with the gift or if they are worthy of it. Give uncondtionally...outta LOVE, no questions asked- NO JUDGEMENT. At a time when our world is falling apart and we get so few moments of joy take the time to spread it to an unknown person and ask NOTHING in return. Why not just: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"? I am on a less then fixed income and I would like to CONTRIBUTE to Tangela's Christamas for her kids- my email is my name @ gmail if anyone can get her address and or #.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  19. Mom of Three

    I don't understand how your kids are "the poor kids" when they have an intact family and two hardworking, never give up parents. Because they don't have plastic Chinese trashy toys? Rethink what your blessings really are. And yes, we are also struggling.

    December 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Guri Singh

      I agree with Mom of Three.

      I am amazed at how many parents teach their kids that X'mas is about gifts and crappy Toys made in factories in Asia.

      You are all alive, well, have a roof over your head, have food on the table and
      foremost, have each other.

      You are blessed. Have a wonderful X'mas.
      I am amazed in your thought process, while I read this article. Instead of giving kids toys, give them clothes, books and/or art related items.

      God Bless us all.

      December 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • RHO

      They ARE the poor kids now. She is telling how they have descended into poverty. Like millions of others. Everyone is losing ground. Thanks so much for the hope and change.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  20. Bethel Place

    Girlfriend..Hang in there. Some times we give and some times we need to receive. Both times are God's love for us. We have been in fulltime ministry for 15 years and we have 6 children. We have been able to be a blessing to many others and other years we have been blessed by many others. What goes around comes around. When we sow we too shall reap. All your years of giving have now been for your time of need. God saw the future and you were obedient to give as YOU WERE ABLE... Proving the love of God was in you. Trouble is, many people DO NOT give and when troubled times come they have nothing to reap, for they have not sown.
    Now in your time of financial lack sow all the love you can. Serve in any area of ministry you can. VOLUNTEER anywhere you can,...that service and blessing will be returned to you also and then some.
    Be faithful!! We will pray for you, pray for us , Sister!
    The Dale Tribe

    December 18, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • skysgirl

      Well said !! Exactly !!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:08 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.