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. Dee

    Tangela, thank you for writing about the contrast this Christmas has to previous years. There is nothing wrong with mourning a loss in a life – be it small or large – especially if there is learning and empathy left in the aftermath. Not being able to give your kids all their heart desires does not preclude caring for them in every aspect of their lives.

    I pity the folks who feel better by telling you how much worse off they are. Or by those moved to criticize your parenting because you choose a special gift for your children when you are able.

    I pray that you and your family finds peace this Christmas.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • HopefulHost

      Well said!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Momma Cow


      December 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  2. A Tangelo

    I'm suing this woman for trademark infringement!!!

    December 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  3. ashrakay

    I demand CNN begin a "non-belief" section to balance out their fantasy-based Belief section. Either that, or I would request they provide more balanced Belief section to highlight other beliefs such as fairies, leprechauns, talking bunny rabbits and an assortment of comic book heroes.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • racer x

      That seems fair, ashrakay. I hope that would include my "Boobies and Beer" religion. I would like to ask the worldwide Internet audience to please consider donating to my church.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  4. Tangela

    You crakas bess stop hatin' on me! You go worry 'bout your OWN self! Uh huh ...

    December 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Susan

      Tangela, I thought your article was very true to the times we are all in right now and your story was very heartfelt. I told my kids that this Christmas was going to be like no other Christmas. We too cannot find work, will not be buying gifts for anyone, now even our immediate family. Instead we are going to try to get into the spirit of CHristmas and be thankful for the things we still DO have. And I concur, 2011 ha been the worst year, EVER! Hang in there Tangela and bless your family, you're a good mom!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Puddlepyrate

      Can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen girl... Don't come here with your sad ass story, when there are REAL people suffering EVERYDAY not just DEC 25. Ahhh I can not afford showstoppers for my kids, poor you... What about the parents who cannot afford the medicines for their kids, the elderly that will be have cat food for dinner on Dec 25 by themselves, because their children are too busy opening up their showstoppers with their kids. You selfish, selfish girl, you are right, you do deserve more, I am sure God will provide..

      December 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Tangela

      Thank you! Because everyone can tell that I sound exactly like that..

      December 18, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Aunt Jemima

      Don't you mind them crazy-ass white folk, girl!

      December 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  5. imagine

    the disgraceful failure of obama has ruined millions of christmases in america in fact the holiday has been cancelled...

    December 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Thia

      But...he's worked really hard and is now taking a $4M vacation in hawaii on the backs of the taxpayers. I mean, after all, he's earned it. He's...um...ok, I'm sure he's done something.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Meanwhile in reality, people who have been paying attention realize that the economic free fall started during the Bush Administration, and efforts to stop that free fall have been stonewalled by politicians who serve the corporations that own them rather than the citizens that elected them.

      But heck, if you want to blame the wrong person, you go on right ahead.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • lean cuisine

      No matter how tough it gets we can still eat the cat.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Wow, where were you haters when Bush took so many vacations at his ranch in Texas that the press started referring to Crawford, TX as "the Western White House"?

      December 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • HateReligion

      Is there a person on earth quite as stupid as a conservative american? You have to be a complete buffoon to believe that a man who is essentially a powerless figurehead is responsible for what happens to the largest economy the planet has ever seen and/or that he can turn around the impact of a recession caused by at least 50 years of economy policy in less than 4 years. It's really outrageous. What's equally hilarious is that conservatives shrieked that we couldn't blame Bush when the recession hit after 8 years of his "leadership." But somehow this does not apply to Obama. And for the record, I'm not even a fan – just so freaking sick of how gullible you people are.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  6. cantsee

    At least you have a husband. Many of us have lost spouses and have to "go it alone"

    December 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Kevin

      I am sorry for your loss. My grandfather lost my grandmother recently and its hard on him, as well.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  7. Thia

    I find it sad that the author finds the "crown jewel of success" as a parent in what material item she can give her chiildren. You are what is wrong with our country. The crown jewel of success in being a parent is loving your children, feeding them, reading to them, spending time with the, and saving the money you would spend on the "crown jewel" to a college fund. That is being a parent. Showering them with useless gifts is worthless. Perhaps unintentionally, but you remind me of what's important and it isn't being poor, rich, or wanting material things. Shame on you. You suck as a parent and a role model.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Tangela

      Thia, Thank you for your comment. What I didn't mention in the article is that my 5 year old spent four days in ICU and nearly died at Easter. My mother died of pancreatic cancer in September, we were supporting her in Alabama, while under-employed... My husband had a heart attack a couple of months ago. I'm not an awful parent. I'm just a woman trying to shed light on what it's like. I don't think it's materialistic to want to give a 5 year old a toy. I hope for full employment for my husband and myself. I didn't ask anyone for anything. I wish you and your family health and happiness. Merry Christmas.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Susan

      Thia, I find it sad that you are so judgmental that you dont even get what the author was trying to say. She sounds like an excellent mother to me, but you my friend, seem to be lacking in human decency and have probably had everything handed to you all your life. You so cant see beyond yourself and your situations that you find it so easy to judge this woman. Shame on you and Merry Christmas Scrooge!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Tangela, I feel for you and your family. You've had a very hard year and I hope things are better for you all very soon. Ignore the trolls. They're just bored and stupid.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  8. Puddlepyrate

    God must have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas for the Ekhoff family this year, showstoppers... She is an Elder of a church, what an embarressment to her congregation, although she is a better comedian as her blog is a joke.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Thia

      I couldn't agree more. I'm horrified by her obvious lust of material objects. What an example. NOT!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Tangela

      Why thank you! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  9. HAL 2000

    I wish they'd stop showing those starving nigra commercials on television. Those "people" are disgusting! "Gibs me, gibs me, gibs me." It never ends. If we feed one million this year, we'll be feeding five million next year. DON'T FEED THE NIGRAS!

    December 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • El Kababa

      OPD (Obnoxious Personality Disorder)

      December 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • SuHu

      Dang Hal, why you gotta be so racist-sounding? White people have their hands out too.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • HAL 2000

      No, El Kababa, don't try to excuse their behavior by calling it OPD. It's more than that: they seem ... subhuman.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Thia

      Well, the author does admit wanting the "crown jewel" gift. Maybe if she loved her kids, she wouldn't care about crap like that.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Never amazed at the stupidity of others

      You should not be allowed to even breath the same air as everyone else. Evolution has not worked fast enough to rid the world of idiots such as you. Hurry up and do the human race a favor and just die off.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • HAL 2000

      Thank you, never amazed. That's how I feel about them, too. Why don't they just die?

      December 18, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  10. Dana in Alaska

    Elaine and I are poor. Between us we gross 22,000.00 a year but we are rich where it counts. No Christmas tree here and I say so what, Elaine is. Thankfully we have a roof over our heads, heat, food in our bellies ( cost of which is 3-4 times higher than the lower 48. I am disabled, unemployed, no source of income, denied medicaid twice, denied C.A.M.A. twice which is Alaska supplied medical coverage, no disability ins. ect. We are one step from being homeless as our small apt. and basic utilities are supplied by Elaine s work, But we aren't complaining, we have a full life because of her beliefs and to a lessor extent my belief in God. No state, federal, or city ordinance will ever remove God from us.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  11. Evan

    I'm so sick of hearing about Christmas being all about the materialism of gift giving.

    Last time I checked the Holy Bible, giving thanks is about keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, two basic elements of human life that people of third world nations are denied every day of their desperately hopeless existence.

    We are so blessed as a nation and we're waiting for wealthier people to play Santa for the kids, so the Christmas gift of materialism is perpetrated? No wonder kids grow up thinking that human worth is synonymous with net worth.

    December 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  12. polycarp pio

    2011 has been tough and 2012 will be tougher still, but I have food and rainment so I am content. PP

    December 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Elwood P. Dowd


      The entire state of Texas prayed for rain and you got rainment?! "God" and Jesus are real old, though, and they get kinda confused...

      (hint: it's 'raiment')

      December 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • TangelaToo

      Elwood, since n and m are keyboard neighbors, it nmight have been a typo. In any case, I'll take polys typo or spelling error over your blasphemy any day.

      December 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  13. Sharon in NC

    This could have been written by me. We are in the same boat, with a $2,000 a month health insurance premium bill. We live with family to make ends meet. I wish them the best of luck. It takes courage to admit you are broke and in need of help...especially if you have been working since you were 12 like my husband and I. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. It means you can afford to give!

    December 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Richard

      Amen on the blessed comment Sharon. Our family has always given during Advent. This year our basic necessities have taken everything, leaving no extra for charity. I can give thanks that these needs are met, and we are not on the dole. Indeed, I am incredibly grateful. The good news is that money in not the only thing you can give. Your time is sometimes more valuable than your cash.

      December 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  14. TangelaToo

    I'd be less skeptical if she'd written under a declared pseudonym. She is likely counting on this turning into a cash cow due to the generosity and naïveté of the readers of this blog. January is gonna be full of showstoppers for this family!

    December 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Tangela

      What you talkin' bout fool? Lawdy, you crakas be tight wads!

      December 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • CT

      I had the same thought upon reading this. At least she admits that she is selfish and it is very clear that if she does get her wish and gets back to being well-off, she will go right back to her selfish and self-serving ways. I'm confused as to why this is in the Belief blog when all this woman truly worships is money.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • TravelSheryl

      She's a pastor, people. Do you think she would put her credibility on the line? Don't be so cynical.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Personally, I don't care if this is her cash cow...at least she did something proactive with her talents in the hopes of bettering herself. She didn't just hang around blaming others, the government or falling victim to her situation. Tangela, I'm not sure what your problem is, but a bit of empathy wouldn't hurt you in life. Or perhaps you're just envious or angry at yourself because you didn't think of or didn't have the motivation or the talent to write a blog yourself.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • TangelaToo

      Jennifer: girlfriend, when you make 150k+ a year, you don't have to blog!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • TangelaToo

      Sheryl: she's an elder, not a pastor. I suspect the PCUSA has rejected their own scriptures, since Paul plainly instructs the churches that elders must be the husband of one wife, and this criterion our writer does not meet.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Tangela

      HOW DARE YOU!!!

      December 18, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • TangelaToo

      Tangela: no problem, really. I just take the time to read the scriptures and seek to understand their meaning.

      December 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  15. TravelSheryl

    I've already purchased my first item for next year to be given to a less fortunate child. I gave about 6 toys this year. I love doing this.

    December 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  16. CA mom

    I am thankful I read this article as well as the constructive comments. In dwelling over what else I need to get for my family for Christmas this has helped me know that I am done shopping. I will now use my week before Christmas to help those less fortunate.

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

      There you go being awesome. And no, I am not being sarcastic.

      December 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ashamed

      Thank you. You have expressed very well the reason for the writer's submission.

      For all of the others posting with their lack of humanity and their glib putdowns, your lack of empathy, or plain old fashioned refusal to accept reality keeps many of you from recognizing that you are one or two paychecks from being in the position of the writer– or worse, since I'd wager more than a few lack any degree past high school.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Washington

      "Ashamed"....how smug....really, there are people without high school degrees who don't live paycheck to paycheck. It's called hard work. I don't have a college degree and I'm very successful, in my opinion. Of course, I did'nt have to have the gigantic house and ridiculous mortgage I could'nt afford and the other trappings that my "college educated" peers seemed to think was somehow owed to them. Now they are basically starting over after losing homes while I am getting ready to pay off my mortgage soon.

      December 18, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  17. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  18. MomOf3

    Wonderful article. I can't imagine not being able to get my children that one or two special item they have their hearts set on. I can totally understand the point Tangela is trying to make. Thank you for writing this!

    December 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  19. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Iqbal Khan


    December 18, 2011 at 6:15 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.