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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. Fionna

    I suggest you go to this contributor's "Home Girl On The Range" blog–it's comprised of beautifully written, witty bits of realism that most Americans can identify with.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  2. JL

    And for all the people who say "I wish I had the money to splurge for a Pizza Hut pizza", I find it interesting that although you don't have $10.00's for a pizza, you have the money to pay for internet and a computer... Classic!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Silence

      Have you ever heard of the public library? It is free, has computers and internet. Don't assume. Also, someone with an old laptop that is next to worthless, is more than likely going hang on to it because many jobs can only be applied for online. The computer and internet becomes the only tool to many jobs that are the kinds of jobs that laid off workers have the experience and skills for.
      No experience, no job.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. Robert

    Tangela, just hold on, things will get better. Rejoice in what you do have, and share what you can with others. Peace will find you.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  4. Me

    We do not buy gifts for one another. Christmas has become WAY to commercialized and I'm happy to say I FINALLY talked both families into no more gifts 🙂 This will be year #3, we enjoy family and food and just be happy we have another year together 🙂

    December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. BonnieBog

    It breaks my heart to see all of the cruel comments on here. I know this family, I am proud to have known them for years, and I am familiar with their setbacks over the past year–major health problems, loss of treasured family members, loss of long time friends, loss of pride. I am proud to see that they have not also lost their faith. Tangela put herself and her story out here as a perspective on what so many families are facing this Christmas. I read this as a story of hope in hard times, not as whining or asking for help as many readers have interpreted it. The Ekhoffs are not lazy, stupid, or uneducated. They did not ask for this. They made choices based on the options they had at the time. I am surprised so many can read this and not know that "but for" any one of us could be in this family's situation. Thanks Tang for keeping your sense of humor and your strength even when you are down. You remind me to keep on keeping on. Yall are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas, and as always, yall are in my heart. Keep your head up, girl–remember, no matter how far down you are, you are always an angel!

    December 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  6. dogs rule

    CNN: WHY are you giving space to this whiner???? Some people in the Northeast do not have heat, and this idiot is whining about no "big-ticket" item for her brats? Gimme a break.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Nat

      You sound like a mean person

      December 18, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  7. Eric

    Tangela – To you and your family I wish you the best and want you to know you are not alone. Thank you for sharing this message as so many people get wrapped up in the commercialism of the season. Like every parent you want what's best for your kids and you want to make the season special. Your honesty and openness here is to be be commended and I'm sorry for the judgmental comments so many feel they must make. I only wish that more people would realize they are no more than one pink slip nor one illness away from being in the same situation. I'm blessed as my wife and I have good jobs, but I worry for my own children who have a far more difficult path ahead as changes to our economy have changed the employment scene and as disparities between the wealthy and the poor continue to grown in our nation. My wish for all is that empathy and compassion might grow this season.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  8. IranDestroyed

    yes I agree with the other nay sayers of this article. Frankly if Christmas to this writer and her family is the existence of some bizarre mechanized piece of plastic or the purchasing of anything – if that's the gauge of their Christmas , then they have no idea what Christmas is or ever was. I feel sorry for this writer and the family she tends because she has no ideal how poor she is, even if she were drowning in solid gold. This article is a poster child for what has gone wrong in this country, for how we have lost all that Christmas stands for, how we have become merely a potter's vessel. Shame on CNN for even considering the publication of this heresy.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. DonJuan1943

    Ms. Eckhoff's article is wonderful. Much more meaningful than the articles written by CNN's media millionaire writers and TV pundits, who tell us what to think. And much more meaningful than the cold sarcastic comments by some of the above people who pass for human. We are being bamboozled by the 1% in this country; and many of us don't even know it. YET.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • jasie

      Some of my best gifts were homemade or redone second hand gifts. We have become too dependent on "things that money will buy."

      December 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  10. Amanda

    first off..... i feel for you, I do, lots of us wont have show stoppers this year,
    but something you said really grates with me (besides the fact gifts are waaaaaay to high on your priority list if you happen to be poor, and this just isnt what richness of spirit is about)
    do you think the people on the angel tree are less than you? you made a point to point out you are smart and educated and GASP you've needed to ask for charity
    how terrible for you...
    maybe, if you do ever get back into the ever shrinking middle class, you'll look at "charity" and the people who need it, with a different perspective

    December 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Amanda

      heres an idea for next year...
      set a spending cap on each kid, ask them to not make a list but have surprises
      and then buy them a few things each based on what you know of their interests

      December 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Elizabeth

      I feel sure that the author did not mean that she was superior for having an education but, rather, that the economy is so bad that even her education is not protecting her from hardship. I think she was anticipating likely assumptions from readers, rather than expressing any of her own elitism. It's a fact: with an education, you are theoretically in a better position to find employment.

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

      Tangela was a part of the working class a very short time ago before job loss, health problems and other setbacks brought her down economically. When she was "middle class", she was extremely charitable, most notably to me. Not only did she offer me her friendship, but she helped me with advise and monetarily at a time when I was struggling. If you read the article through, you would see that she also has sponsored other needy families as recently as last year when her family was struggling. I am always amazed at the ability of someone to judge others. Perhaps, we should use this as an example of one of the many struggling families in America. I encourage others to remember those that are having a hard time this christmas. If you are offended at the idea of giving two young children toys this Christmas, then buy them clothes. If that offends you, maybe just offer them a kind word instead of such harsh criticism.

      December 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  11. Camin Keplinger Bradbury

    Christmas is a special time of year. It is very hard as a parent to h ave to make the choices that lead to stable lifelines (food, roof, health, power, transportation...and, yes especially with children in that order) I lived in Nowata for 82 days without Electricity because the choices came down to that list, in that order. This lady and her family don't need to hear our judgement or snobbery. They need to know that they are going to be the best Mom and Dad in the eyes of their children. This sounds like a very health self respect mirror to view themselves through. Right now, Republican, Democrat, or Male/Female Bar dancer, Politics isn't what Christmas is about. Christmas is about family and the ability to give. Giving honestly doesn't take much. Every one gives a gift by simply smiling at another person. The only thing I can give this family is my prayers for their situation to get more comfortable. What I give to the rest of you is my understanding that frustration is very difficult to express and we all feel frustration that needs to be addressed. To all of you, may you find health and happiness under what ever version of the gift giving you participate in this family holiday season.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  12. Dennis

    Waiting for Jesus has been a bad bet for 2000 years. Waiting for the return of the Great Prophet Zarquon is only a slightly better bet.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Amanda

      Thor is coming back man, the final battle after the feasting of the glorious dead will be EPIC

      December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Veronica13

      I pray God bless you Dennis. If you can read that article, and still think to put others down, the self-hate and loathing you have must be terrible. Again, God bless you Dennis, and those like you. Miracles have happened in my life, not by what I've done, but by the grace of God. May he grace you with respect for your fellow humans, and pull you to Him.

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

      Veronica...I hope you are not knocking the Great Prophet Zarquon

      December 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  13. JL

    I love how people preach about Christmas being about "Jesus" as they bash this woman and her writings... Get a clue people!!! All these people who preach with one hand and slap with the other need to realize they are not a "good Christian" or whatever else they think they may be.

    This woman is telling the story of 100's of thousands who use too be able to afford gifts for their children. Yes, while Christmas is about the celebration of the birth of Jesus, it's also a day where parents get to experience that celebration through the reactions on the faces of their children.

    Does it mean they can't have one without the other? Of course not. But that doesn't change the fact that for her children, this Christmas is the Christmas that they get the gift of realizing that they are living in poverty. Now that's a gift I don't wish on any child...

    December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  14. stemzandroses

    And the reduction of the middle class continues to the anthem of "save yourself" by self-professed know-it-alls. This is one of those 'you have to live it' moments. Please don't judge. As an Okie, I'd have suggested they move to Oklahoma City. Less unemployment and more opportunities here than in the Tulsa area.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  15. curt

    My big present is my car insurance paid for one month.... LOL

    December 18, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Ken

      Kurt, this is the absolute truth for me too!!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Santa Clause

    Christmas.... fail.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  17. motoricker

    "the one we call “the Showstopper!”

    So they have taught their kids to be materialistic and greedy.....and we are supposedto feel sorry for them ?

    Americans, geberally speaking, have NO IDEA what real poverty is.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  18. dogs rule

    Boo hoo. AllI have to say is: that's what you get for getting your spoiled brats in the habit od EXPECTING "show-stopper" big-ticket gifts. Welcome to the real world, lady. As a "struggling to make ends meet "retiree, I would be grateful to be able to splurge for a Pizza Hut pizza once a month, or a gift of any kind. Cry me a river.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  19. Raven

    Worst Christmas ever? My kids and I have also lost everything and trying to rebuild but the worst Christmas ever was the one right after my Brother was killed by someone else who chose to drink and drive.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • dogs rule

      You rock!

      December 18, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  20. Nancy

    This woman's 2 college degrees are not worthless at all. She is a beautiful writer, and I would be surprised if some organization or corporation couldn't use her services. She could use her gift of prose in annual reports and press releases for Oklahoma-based companies, holiday and other appeals for Oklahoma non-profits, and much more. Start with this piece to create a portfolio, volunteer where people can see your talent, and you'll soon be taking the names of other people's children from Angel Trees.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:35 am |
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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.