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. googoogaga

    we are going down the tubes!!

    December 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  2. Whatever

    The spirit of Christmas isn't all about gifts in the first place. My family is poor, were actually well within the extreme poverty line. While this year is slightly better that years previous just three years ago our annual income for our family of four was only around $5000. I am officially disabled with no benefits after a decade fighting with the government, and my wife is the sole provider for our family. We have learned how to cut corners to save money. For $29 a month we have internet which provides us with phone service for $20 a year, and free entertainment via sites like Hulu and Crackle or premium content for far less.

    We have pooled resources with family have chickens that provide us with eggs and meat, and even a few cows that provide milk and meat. We grow gardens with the help of family that allows us to have veggies and can them for later use. This saves us a small fortune on groceries.

    When it comes to Christmas the kids know our situation and we usually only give one or two gifts that are non essential and they tend to try to stay within our budget when "hinting" about what they would like those gifts to be. They are content to get essentials like clothing and shoes as part of Christmas because they know it's not about the gifts but rather the time we spend with family, charity, and good will towards our fellow man.

    For poor people like us our Christmas usually comes in February-May when our tax refunds come in. They are used to pay off debts first, then replace or repair items that didn't make it threw the previous year, and pay taxes on property. After that we spend on what we will need for the current year and what ever is left over goes towards the kids buying those things we may have not been able to afford during the holidays.

    December 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  3. Eric

    I'm a 47-year-old man and I don't believe in showstoppers anymore. My family is doing OK financially but I think we just need to be thankful for each other and for the Savior. The Savior is the best showstopper ever.

    December 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  4. *frank*

    If Chuck the Talking Dump Truck is still around, maybe he should make himself useful and take this article where it belongs.

    December 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • OBAMA from hawaii

      ...I'm sorry to hear about your economc plight this holiday Mrs. Ekhoff. I'm thinking of you while I'm on my $4,000,000 Hawaii Christmas vacation.... I know I can count on your vote in November. I know the evil GOP pundits will say I'm out of touch for taking such an fancy vacation, just ignore them. Just mindlessly vote for me again and I promise things will be different soon.....don't worry, I'm preparing another flowerly feel good speach to make sure you know I care!

      December 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • EJW

      I was taught to say, "If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything." I don't always heed that advice but now I know why my parents taught it to me. Maybe a few people here could heed that advice since it seems spewing nasty comments is all some of you can come up with.

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

    I am having the nicest holiday season yet. This whole year was great. I got a plan to get my finances under control, which is going well now that I adjusted my lifestyle so that I don't keep buying things I don't need or end up throwing out later anyway. I learned that others only give you things you don't need and you end up throwing things out or things piling up and making more of a mess. I don't even send cards anymore. This year is the last. I spend my holidays alone. Where it's quiet, no bickering with relatives, no food to cook for everyone who probably can't or don't eat certain foods or don't like this or that, no spending on presents that they may not want after all (and get mad at you for not buying something that cost over $1500 when you can't afford $10). No eating foods that only make you sick anyway. I'm going to bake a little cake, have food I can eat and not a whole lot of it, and just sit back, relax, reflect on the past year and the lessons, and think of how I can make the next year a wonderful year. I don't have a whole lot. In fact, I have next to nothing. And I don't feel so tied down as I used to. I'm happy. That's what is important but many don't even know what really makes them happy in life. They only know what others (including retailers) tell them makes them happy.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Dave Junkins

      Is that you Ebeneezer?

      December 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Enzo

      Bravo! Well said. So many people love to talk about how family is "what is most important".... as they continue to live their miserable lives, popping anitdepresants....dealing with a bunch of obnoxious people. Totally agree: simplicity...healthy...uncluttered....is the key......you all should read that post above again and really reflect on it.....the insight from the post above is the best gift you will get this year.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • justsimplykate

      What a wonderful post. May you continue to be blessed.......and be a blessing.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  6. letsgomets2011(and 2012!)

    I would like to know who has alll the money to shop in malls this holiday season.

    I just returned from there – the place is jammed and for a country that's supposed to be in such dire financial straits – 1 out of 2 people have been deemed poverty level – somebody sure has the money to do the buying.

    I have never seen such a large crowd at a mall on a Sunday before Christmas, not even when we were in good employment times.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Dave Junkins

      The poverty line was moved upward to ensure that half the country are considered "in poverty". This was done to aid President Barack Obama with his class warface tactics and re-election campaign. As you have noticed, many of these folks "in poverty", and receiving various government handouts, still have plenty left over to buy their flat screen TVs, cell phones, and Air Jordan sneakers in the mall.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Enzo


    December 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Enzo

      This is a good showstopper for those of you who are looking for one! Made in America too!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Tom

    Makes me wonder if she had not spent money on all those "Showstoppers" , and instead put the money aside for a rainy day, if she might not be in a better position today. What her kids will now remember wont be the "Showstoppers' they got in the past but the fact that there wont be any this year. Guess it's a good way for them to learn about money, and the value of it!

    December 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Tiny Tim

      You sound almost exactly like Mr. Scrooge.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Real Deal


      Chuck the Talking Dump Truck costs about $20 (or less) - her "Showstoppers" were not all that extrava.gant.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • MomOf3

      The "Showstopper" from last year was a $20 dump truck toy – Chuck the Talking Dump Truck. Not exactly an iPad or outrageous purchase, at least in my opinion.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  9. LP

    I'm kind of weirded out that after all that build up to what a showstopper was, it was a present that was about 25 bucks? How is that over the top? I was thinking plasma TVs, four wheelers, etc. A plastic dump truck? I hate to tell them, but they were poor before. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it changes the entire scope of the article. They aren't rich going to poor or even middle class going to poor.

    Also, they really don't have anyone to blame for this. They moved from a large, bustling capital city to a tiny midwestern town and expected to do better than they had before? Of course they couldn't find jobs. They moved from a city of more than 300,000 to a town with less than 30,000. You do the math. I bet they wish they had.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Freshy

      Damn it Jim I'm a doctor not an accountant!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Martin null Scheufele

      your an ass maybe to them that was a showstopper for there kids! be a little great full!!!!!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Helpful Hints


      There are no live moderators here. Perhaps if "report abuse" gets clicked enough times, someone might look at it, but otherwise it is just the goofy automatic word filter... (besides, how could a live mod. possibly intercept your post before it even appears?!)

      December 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      oops, sorry, wrong spot.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Jean in Montgomery

      If you think that Montgomery is a "bustling" city, you need to do some research. Alabama's unemployment rate in in the 11's, and Montgomery is right up there with it. Even with the Hyundai plant we haven't got much in the way of job opportunities - the good jobs there go to.... their countrymen imported for the positions. Other jobs, like building pieces of the doors, dashboards, etc., are done at shops around town. Those shops contract the workers through agencies so they can tailor their workforce to the ebb and flow of work, plus pay less. Other than that, Mgm is basically a service town: malls, shopping centers, food service; everyone selling and feeding everyone else!

      December 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Tulsan

      Owasso, Oklahoma is a bedroom community for Tulsa.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  10. Dave Junkins

    Where did my long, excellent, and well thought out comment go, CNN?

    It was better than this editorial and all of the other comments, combined!

    December 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Helpful Hints


      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

      December 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Helpful Hints


      p.s. Page back if you can and look over your post for those hidden words-within-words, they try reposting.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Dave Junkins

      Thanks HH. You are living up to your name... although I can't seem to find any offending letter combinations in my post, they may be hidden in there somewhere...

      December 18, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Dave Junkins

      Perhaps it was not the letters and words but just the meaning of my post. It was just too bracingly real, blunt and non politically correct for the tender emotions of the average CNN.com reader. They just would not have been able to handle that level of analysis.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • letsgomets2011(and 2012!)

      I for one would like to know who has alll the money to shop in malls this holiday season.

      I just returned from there - the place is jammed and for a country that's supposed to be in such dire financial straits - 1 out of 2 people have been deemed poverty level - somebody sure has the money to do the buying.

      I have never seen such a large crowd at a mall on a Sunday before Christmas, not even when we were in good employment times.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Helpful Hints


      There are no live moderators here. Perhaps if "report abuse" gets clicked enough times, someone might look at it, but otherwise it is just the goofy automatic word filter..... (besides, how could a live mod. possibly intercept your post before it even appears?!)

      December 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  11. Mr Chihuahua

    I thought the Showstopper was the act in Tijuana with the girl and the donkey lol!

    December 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  12. Frank

    This too shall pas..

    December 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  13. Amanda

    All those Americans with no jobs and no gifts for Christmas should remember as the American troops pull out from Iraq, the way is not over for those Iraqi who were maimed during the war. I just watched that video showing a few Iraqis in their hospital bed. CNN does not have decency to provide a way to leave comments on that story like this one.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • George1234

      CNN is trying to justify 800 Billion and 50,000 American dead and wounded. he last thing they are going to report is the facts.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  14. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • George1234

      Thanks for posting these stories -CNN is incapable of real news.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Dave Junkins

      Quite an ugly mug on that fellow isn't it? Not a future male model, sorry to say. But they don't make much money anyway...

      December 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Tangela

      That be one ugly nigra. Uh huh ...

      December 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  15. George1234

    Just returned from a sojourn in search of kids sneakers. Went to Sports Authority and three other stores – sneakers ranged from $40-$80 a pair. Similar shoes were selling at Walmart from $10-$20. People need to boycott the expensive brands in order to send a message to companies who expect people to pay a days take home pay for a simple pair of kids shoes.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • IceT

      Yeah, keep buying those cheap imported items & not supporting US manufacturing. US workers expect increases in pay & benefits every year but yet spend their "meager" earnings on imported items (cause US made items are too expensive) ... then complain about our economy. This shortsightedness never ceases to amaze me.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • George1234

      IceT you can go ahead and spend $70-$80 on sneakers -the fact is they are all made at the same Chinese factories -the only difference is the name on the label. Show me a Nike factory in the US and I will buy their brands. Fact is -they don't have any factories in the States.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jenn

      Has it occurred to you that the reason that shoes cost significantly less at one store is that perhaps that store may have a long list of labor violations around the world? Google Walmart and sweatshops or Walmart and labor rights. I have a personal boycott going...AGAINST Walmart. The more expensive brands may be such because that is what it costs to make shoes, not the other way around. A simple example can be seen in chocolate – a non-fair trade bar (think hersheys or any other regular brand) is less than $1....while a fair trade bar runs $2-$3. There is a reason for that and it is not because the fair trade maker is gouging anyone. That is what chocolate costs to make when you don't use children and pay a fair wage.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Jenn

      Also, you can purchase shoes at Goodwill for $3-$4, many of which are still in great condition. I realize that you may be after "new" (as is the case in much of America) for Christmas, but for the rest of the year, you should keep an eye out...I got a brand new pair of black heels for work for $3.50 and 2 like-new looking purses for $3. Ties are $1. Clothing ranges from $1-$5 depending on what it is. Jackets/suits may be a little more.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Enzo

      What should they do around Ferrari's? That Ferrari 458 looks really great and seems to be a good value at $280,000. Don't you agree?

      December 18, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • IceT

      George1234 ... The problem isn't 1 pair of shoes, it's the mentality that US consumers don't purchase US made goods because they cost too much. That's why mfg is done overseas to begin with .. we won't buy higher priced US made goods! If you seek out & demand US made goods, the mfg will come back to the US, even for products no longer made here. If you own a store (US mfg's) and even your employees (US consumers) won't shop there .. you won't stay in business, get it?! BTW NEW BALANCE mfg's many sports shoes here in the US, if you took the time to look.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • IceT

      Yay JENN!!! someone out there gets it!!

      December 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • George1234

      Thanks for the info IceT. I will actually check out the New Balance company in the future. Jenn, your efforts are great. I also have started to check out thrift stores on a regular basis as they do have some amazing bargains including books and electronics. I have also not used a credit card in 4-years preferring to pay cash or to go without. Its difficult at times, as credit cards are incredibly convenient. However, paying for everything in cash is also very self-empowering. Merry Xmas to everyone -lets all make an effort to buy American.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Steven

      George1234, people like you are the reason many folks can't afford to buy even the cheap version now. Will people ever realize that trading your job for a $10 savings is poor economic theory?

      December 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • IceT

      George1234 ... thank you for being on of the few gracious commentors on these blogs. I tend to get a bit frustrated at times when people don't see the power the US consumer has in their wallets. It's unfair trade that's the problem & the only way to fight it is to use our larger personal buying power before it's too late.

      December 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  16. Klw

    This woman is not saying that her kids have to have big expensive toys for Christmas (the "showstopper" was a plastic toy truck"). There is nothing wrong with wanting toys for Christmas – toys make kids happy. So put your high horse back in the stable now.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  17. Chris D.

    I sympathize with the writer to some extent, but she should be thankful that she has the most important thing – her family. I know of a family that last week lost a young mother to cancer, leaving behind a husband and two small daughters, and another family that several weeks ago lost the seemingly healthy father to a sudden heart attack at a relatively young age. These families will have a difficult Christmas, to say the least.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  18. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • KS

      Iqbal khan – Quit posting this crap. No one wants to see your videos taking up the comment space. If you have something to say, then actually say it.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  19. asorge

    "Showstopper". Is that the new buzzword that the corporate media marketeers are going to jump on and pound over the head with? Next year are we going to be bombarded with "and they came out in the millions to buy their Showstoppers on Black Friday!!!!" Are we going to hear more stories of people being trampled and pepper sprayed because they got in the way of someone trying to buy Showstoppers? People, if you concentrated on more important things in life than getting "Showstoppers" employers might find that you have the depth and knowledge they are looking for and hire you.

    December 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  20. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 5:07 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.