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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. 96stix

    "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."

    I don't know you, Tangela Ekhoff, but I find the opening sentence of your essay so sad. It led me to reflect on what I consider my "crown jewel of success" as a parent. Having raised 2 sons (now both officially middle aged) I can look back and say the greatest joy for my husband and me is having raised 2 caring, beautiful men who have always known the joy that comes with giving to and caring for others. One son teaches at an inner city high school, the other is a paramedic. Neither of them would ever feel it a benefit to gift their children with a "showstopper". They do however teach their own youngsters to be grateful for what they have. I would suggest you volunteer at a soup kitchen, it will make you feel wealthy beyond words.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Elizabeth

      You really need to get over yourself. There is nothing wrong with her opening lines. Enjoying her childrens' joy on Christmas morning takes nothing away from raising them to be good people. Making a big fussy point out of not taking pleasure in presents on Christmas morning? Weird. And lame.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Shannon

      Give her a break! As a mom I totally get what she is saying. Christmas is a magical time of year and for young chilldren it IS about the gifts – as parents watching that joy is like nothing else. Tangela, I will pray for you and your family! Keep writing, you are very talented. The rest of you, get a life.

      December 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  2. j

    the squeaky wheel gets the greese,well played (probably thought of from those degrees you've earned). i should have gotten a degree on being squeaky instead of architecture, might help my financial situation =)

    December 18, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  3. fixthemistakein2012

    maybe you shouldn't have voted for Obama...the country pretty much asked for this – hope they are happy with what they have done

    December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • MabyeImStupid

      I think you should go back under the rock you crawled out from ... just continue to watch Fox News, listen to limbaugh and beck. Just stay entertained, why deal with reality? Bush didn't bail anybody out, all the bad stuff happened the moment Obama took office, right?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Sure, fix, it's ALL Obama's fault. After all, HE'S the one who got us involved wars that have cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives. Obama is the one who allowed the banks to run unregulated and nearly cause the collapse of our economy, right?

      Oh, wait. Hmm. No, that's not the way it happened, dimbulb. Maybe you have Alzheimers. You should get that checked out.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Readandthinkonceinawhile2012

      Do you honestly believe things work this simple? Do you really think it matters that much who is in office? Large cooperations own this country, it's not very hard to see this if you put it all together. Not to mention, the problem starts with us and people's apathy to voice their opinions. If you're just coming out of the woodwork ever-so-often to voice your simplistic opinion that it all rests on who the president is, just go back inside your cave and stay there. It's like walking into the middle of a football game while your buddies have been watching for hours and you say "were losing? it's because number 34 has a mustache, that's why".

      December 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  4. aycarambaa

    I love the spirit of the writer! The fun must go on, even if you spend a few dollars. Don't listen to these bores with their preaching.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  5. Bob_Lawbla

    This is a perfect example of the problem with America. We are consumed with materialistic needs. Forget the fact that we don't need or can't afford them. Temporary, short-term happiness trumps long-term, permanent happiness every time.

    People have always had "wants" and "needs" and in todays society everyone "needs" everything. Cable TV, cell phones, flat screen TV, video game consoles, new cars, big houses. People have all these toys and complain when their isn't enough money for food and medicine.

    I for one do not feel bad about people suffering when they clearly don't take any personal responsiblity and blame others for their current situation. They waste money they don't have all year and when it comes time to try and spoil the ingrateful, miserable children there isn't anything left on the credit card.

    Maybe you can ask Santa Claus for a new President.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • MabyeImStupid

      I agree to some extent. Many people don't have a clue about what is really important and what it takes to be successful, but its not necessarily their fault. I'm one of them, so I'm not trying to throw stones. We all want everything now! Why work for it? Why save? Why wait? This is what TV and the media bombard us with every single waking moment if we let them. The media is trying to turn us all into impulsive, impatient teenagers. Only thing worthwhile is material things, the more you own, the happier you will be. The nicer the car, the house, the clothes, the hair, etc. the happier you will be.

      News is the same, bad news makes us feel bad and then they show us something wonderful that we can spend money on and feel good, like alcohol, on the beach, on a warm day, with a beautiful/handsome partner at your side. The fantasy we want to believe to get away from this reality of bad things happening in a world of billions. There is always bad news to guilt us into submission. Is it any wonder why news is almost always bad? The worse the news, the more people will buy, assuming they can pay for it or charge it.

      I'll go back to my room now and put on my tin foil hat, just in case...

      December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. Sameboat

    First off, George. I hear what you are saying, but the fact is that some people have a calling and to do anything other than that is not worth it. That being said, I more than understand where this woman is coming from. I am also a computer technician, father of four, husband to a woman who worked very hard to earn a BS in Elementary Education. We live in a very rural area. I have full expectations of commuting long distances. My wife, who beats her self up on a regular basis for putting the family through three years of her going back to school with the hope that this would make all the difference, and for two years now has not been able to find a steady job. Due to our state governments belief that education is less than important she has been unable to land a teaching job. The other problem is that she actually has a degree. She has applied to work at every fast food joint, and any clerical, or office jobs that come around and she has been told by our local job office that they don't want to hire people that have options.

    I have myself have only been employed 10 of the last 26 months working contract jobs when I can get them. Though WAI I was able to get some training this summer to earn my A+, Network+, and start working on my CCNA. Having those certifications has help, I have a lot more responses from my resume, but they have not made the difference I was hoping for. Fortunately I still qualify for unemployment. After our bills, and we have made many cutbacks, we are left with less than $150/month. Understand, fuel alone takes up much of that when it's nearly a forty mile round trip to Wal Mart.

    This year my wife and I are totally unable to buy anything for our children. It has been years since they have had a WOW Christmas. As humbling and hard as it we are SO thankful that two separate organizations have adopted our family. One gave our oldest boy the chance to play Santa and he picked out gifts for himself and his siblings. The other is purchasing gifts for the whole family along with a full dinner. If it were not that it was for the benefit of our children we could not except such charity. We feel very blessed this season. Good luck.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • angelika bertrand

      I think perhaps you should move to Utah. Here teacher's are badly needed. And Salt Lake City has the best jobs for computing and electronics as it was somewhere advertised in a business magazine. I hope things will get better for all Americans. What makes me so mad is that all good American jobs are being outsourced elsewhere. I heard this morning, that the company Pepsi is leaving the USA and is going to Iraq. Good riddens I will never purchase another product from them. Merry Christmas to you and hope that 2012 will look better for all of us!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Sameboat

      Thank you

      December 18, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • F***Utah!

      You can't get a job in Utah without the secret handshake and the magic underwear.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • P.J.

      Here are some tips for people having a hard time this Christmas. I was the fifth of 10 children. A lot of the gifts I got growing up were Used. We were thrilled anyway, didn't even notice until I got older.
      When my brother and his wife were going through lean times and their kids were small, they would take things out of cupboards, toolboxes etc. and wrap them for each other. The kids never knew, and a great time was had by all.
      I can't remember what I got last Christmas, but I do remember how much fun we had.

      December 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • snookie

      Why don't you move?

      December 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • SinkingFast

      I have A+ cert, I've held it for years. Not one time have I actually found it useful. It's never landed me any jobs. My reputation has tho. I've had the pleasure of working for several corporations, but at no time did that piece of paper do me any good.

      I've been doing IT work for nearly 20 years (God, time....bleh). I was so focused on it, I didn't do the wife and kids route. I was recently laid off and there are no frakking IT jobs to be had right now here. Luckily, I suppose, I own the vehicle I drive everyday-Even if it is dying.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  7. diridi

    Just fire all Congress and Republican idiots...o.k,

    December 18, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Bob_Lawbla

      Wow, thanks for showing everyone how useless you are.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  8. Steve

    We are now reaping the rewards of having sold our souls to the Chinese. Millions of good paying jobs and trillions of dollars in tax money has fled the country. Who did it? We did. Pure and simple. American companies jumped ship out of pure greed and yet we still buy their junk.

    Think about all the big box, retail and dollar stores around you that sell nothing made in America. We have American workers selling Chinese crap with 200% or more markup, for just over minimum wage. So, why is it that all the Walmart stores are always full of shoppers then?

    So in the end we are the ones doing it to ourselves, we are shopping ourselves out of existence. I don't buy products from "American" companies that have their goods made in China. I buy foreign.

    It's funny that nobody here seems to be able to make ends meet anymore. But our economy needs people to buy things and have enough money to do it. So I want everyone that reads this to think ahead ten or so years. What will it be like then? The American economy has a tipping point and after we hit that point it's going to be impossible for us not to fall off the cliff...

    December 18, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  9. BS

    Turn off those cell phones and cancel your internet and you might have a little extra cash in your pockets. Cell phones and internet are not necessities.

    Tulsa is a decent sized city – so good luck on the job hunt.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Sameboat

      I have to disagree. When you live in such a rural area as we do, cell phones are a mater of safety and internet is a link to the world that you are trying to get a job in. Yes, these are two big expenses but unfortunately for us we can not do without them. We have made other sacrifices, for example, no more satellite TV. We use the internet for that.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • danny

      how are you going to search for jobs without internet...

      December 18, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • christine

      Internet helps to apply for jobs, and you need a phone to get a call for an interview. believe me I have tried job searching with no phone, they dont mail you a letter asking for you to stop in for an interview.

      December 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Walmart has a new T-Mobile service where you can get unlimited web and text for a flat $30 a month. Only drawback is that you only get 100 minutes.

      December 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  10. tango

    I grew up in a country where Christmas was about Christ. There were many years when I didn't receive any presents and I never felt I was missing anything. We used to get together all our family together to celebrate Jesus birth and that was all what was important. Since I didn't grew up with the concept of Santa as being part of Christmas, I never felt I was missing anything. May be people needs to start looking into their hearts and not their wallets (and by people I include journalists.... this article is only reinforcing all what is wrong about modern Christmas.... How sad Jesus must be by realizing that his birth is only about big ticket items).

    December 18, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Steve

      How true. Christmas is celebrating the gift that we already got 🙂

      December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • MabyeImStupid

      NICE!! Thanks for the reminder...

      December 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  11. Brenda Smith

    I really liked the article. My family has had some of the same problems. My husband was out of work for over a year, he just got a part time job the same day my sister lost her job. We do the best we can and help each other. Since you know how to cook, how about home made food treats for Christmas, and time to spend with your children? Be thankful for what you do have, there are others with less.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  12. Lily

    I am sorry for the new hardships you are enduring but a little confused that you are calling yourself poor. When we have food, clothes, shelter and most of all a love for God and one another, we are rich.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Dennis

      Maybe you should reread the article.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Lily

      The author speaks of her family being unable to "avoid the abyss of poverty". What's there to reread, Dennis?

      December 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Povertized

    Welcome to the new normal. While government argues about how NOT to tax the upper 1%, the middle class and impoverished see reduced standards of living. While we see consecutive quarterly profits in big oil and Big Banks, anyone but the upper class see increases in commodities, food, insurance, utilities etc. Not to mention a failing infrastructure and growing health care costs. Who cares if we CAN provide good health care, what matters is who can AFFORD it. My mother in law had surgery on her stomach, now has a $600,000 medical bill.

    Beware of the next great fear-the medical-industrial complex and all the food regulations (or non-regulations) that go with it. You think health care costs a lot now? Just wait. The middle class and impoverished won't be able to afford it at all.

    Regardless, try to keep in mind the meaning of this season. Be aware of what you have, and celebrate it. But also be aware what our 'superiors' are doing in their positions of power.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • angelika bertrand

      Sorry $ 600,000 I do not believe that. Perhaps $ 120,000 yes but you are over duing it.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  14. Gracko

    If you only value material items, then being poor is a downer. If you mostly value the love and appreciate the 'gifts' you have in life already, and are able to meet your basic expenses but not have tons of money for 'showstopper' gifts, then no big deal.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Cbost714

      Very well put.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Dave in DC

      Look man, it isn't ALL about material items. But there is ONE TIME a year where a gift can make the biggest difference. I know what it feels like.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • tembo

      If you believe the advertizers on TV, you've failed if you havn't placed a mound of junk under the tree, but if you believe in Christmas, you enjoy many small ways of hsaring, buy one or two reasonable gifts, and do fun things together with and for others.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • materialisticfoolsarepathetic

      I'm with you Gracko!!! Family,friends and giving of your time to better others lives is the greatest gift you can give or receive!!!! 🙂

      December 18, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • christine

      agreed. we kid our kids several small gifts for the sake of opening them on Christmas. half of which are clothes and a winter coat lol. but they still enjoy their christmas with out Malibu Barbie and big toys.

      December 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Waretobe

    Tangela thank you for putting your words out there for us to take in and feel. You brought it home to us as a family, we haven't slipped yet from the middle class but are hanging on by out teeth and with college looming ahead for our children I worry if we will be able to help the way we had been planning. We are sending our Christmas blessings to your family and we pray that 2012 is the year that brings out the positive that must come from all the struggle. Don't lose faith in your family, yourself or the world.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • BS

      The college dream is attainable. Your children need to burden some of the debt – since they have a lifetime of work a head of them to pay it off, unlike you.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  16. iBELIEVE

    Meanwhile, Congress rushes off to enjoy their Christmas holidays....

    December 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • iBELIEVE

      ...*public servants*

      December 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  17. Jaye Lynne

    I'm pulling for you and your family, that an angel send the perfect gift for the kids, that you and your husband create whatever you need for your finances to support you all. I invite the folks who have so much to say about what Christmas and the season means re-read their posts. Perhaps they will see a space or two in their own lives where material needs and wants play a bigger role than they want to admit! No matter what is under your tree this year, your post shows you're humanness and your willingness to share of yourself with others, I've no doubt you will create something wonder-filled for your family.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  18. NEPAMom

    No degree is useless. This is my issue with people who continuously go back to school. Some of these professional students seem to do it as a living. Maybe some of the schools out there should teach common sense. As in, "here's what to do if you can't get hired in that one field that you expect to be". It might suck to have a law degree but work as a paralegal, but a job is a job. God gave us all free will. Stop waiting for a "miracle". Go out and make one happen. I don't feel bad for people who are lucky enough to find an available spot on a charitable organization's list, yet stand there crying poverty with their hands open. She should be grateful for the help she is receiving.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Mizzfrizz

      She is grateful for the help she is receiving. Both she and her husband have applied for hundreds of jobs and haven't been hired. Did you not read the article?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Tangela

      I am grateful. I appreciate your comment. Did you read the entire article?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • mary stover

      I think you are what's wrong with our country. All she said was they worked for degrees to better their life but have tried to find any kind of a job. How selfish you are. I bet your sitting in a nice home with your bills all paid and never once taken a name off a Christmas tree for less fortunate children. If I was you I would be so ashamed.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • angelika bertrand

      Where is your Sympathy and Empathy ? Remember you could be next in her shoes?

      December 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • NEPAMom

      LOL! Right now, my daughter is in an area ICU. She's been there for 5 and a half months now. We aren't expected to come home any time soon and when we do, she will be bringing a load of equipment (ventilator, o2, feeding pump, etc), and a team of in home care professionals with her. I have 5 other kids as well, who know that because of this medical crisis, there won't be anything under the tree. In fact, we're lucky to have a tree at all. It was purchased by my brother. I borrow a vehicle to drive 110 miles a day to see my daughter. We're on the brink of losing our house to foreclosure. My backed up utility bills would choke a horse, as I've spent every other Tuesday on the phone with each company trying to buy a little bit more time. If it weren't for the kindness of relatives, my kids wouldn't even have clothing right now. Do not preach to me your pretentiousness, and do not assume to know what position I am in financially. If you'd like to witness it first hand, you are more than welcome to drop by. Be thankful for what you DO have. Enough said.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Leanne

      NEPAMom, One would think with all the hardships you are enduring you might be just tad more sympathetic to others. Instead you have turned it into a peeing contest to see whose in the tougher boat. Congradulations on being heartless.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Aaron

    What parents buy their children today is absolutely ridiculous.
    These kids do not need this stuff in order to be loved and appreciated.
    It's a cop out for guilty parents and trying to keep up with the Jones.
    I suppose it's good for the economy and I thank you for that all you suckers that cave into the retail advertising.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  20. visions

    how can you really want a miracle for your children without a donation link or a paypal address this is 2012 miracles happen but not without information... blessings

    December 18, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Tangela

      It didn't occur to me to do that. I posted it on my blog....it really didn't cross my mind. Merry Christmas ,Visions.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Dave in DC

      Because she's not asking for anything. But I found her email and I am offering. Miracles can happen.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Tangela

      Tangela maybe you can get CNN to fix their blogging soft-ware. See how easy it is to impersonate someone else?

      December 18, 2011 at 12:02 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.