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. jda

    I can't believe how heartless some of you are being. It's the freaking holidays, man. Having a computer isn't some sort of signifier for wealth these days...how do you know she isn't blogging from a 10 year old Compaq? With everything going on in this country those of you who are fortunate enough not to share this woman's perspective, you think the middle class is still capable of thriving and that people like this woman and her husband are just being "lazy". Heaven forbid you should know what it's like to live hand to mouth.

    I hope things get better for you Tangela. I also hope that even though it might be hard you are able to create some great memories to look back on this holiday, even without the "showstopper".

    December 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  2. Brady

    As a nation, we have forgotten how to be civil with one another. That may be the saddest loss of all.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Marsha Ann

    This year I lost my job as a career social worker at age 62 because local officials closed a highly federally funded local agency for political reasons. I was lucky enough to find a menial job at a $20,0000 a year pay cut that is not taxing physically and has great benefits. I am not complaining because I need the health care tilll age 65. But I do think that taxpayers were the real losers. I am married and my husabnd, age 64 makes a decent wage and has good benefits. We consider ourselves blessed at this stage of our lives to have educations and reasonably good health and may be able to work till age 66. However we have cut down on expenses and charitable giving. We can just afford Christmas for our four grandchildren and saving portions of our salary is a thing of the past. For those looking for work I say keep trying and look for benefits. .

    December 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  4. Ellie

    Christmas miracle? What is Tangela's email address? I would like to send her $50.00 immediately so that she can have her showstopper (assuming others will step up to the plate too). And to everyone who questioned her Christmas Showstopper tradition, why would you be negative about this? She is doing something lovely for her family. She is not worrying about a Showstopper for HER. I think it's a great tradition and I would like to help her family have a sliver of that Christmas magic I used to be enchanted by as a kid. Tangela, please be in touch. And Merry Christmas everyone.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • letsgomets2011(and 2012!)

      We got something like a "showstopper" each Christmas, too.

      My bro and I never were the kind of kids who had a 10 volume letter to Santa in the mail - we each let it be known that we wanted maybe 5 items tops and we put thought into the items.

      We always got 1 or 2 gifts and the "showstopper" item was one of them. It was something like a pet parakeet, an AM-FM radio, a hot rollers set, a nice piece of jewelry like a modest gold bracelet or a sports item (if you were my bro, that is).

      The rest of the gifts were useful gifts, like pajamas and robes and clothes and socks and other "needables." What's wrong with that?

      December 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  5. zzubzzub

    Tangela (like your name, BTW!), you are not selfish. You want what makes you happy. And secure. Who does not want that? You have given in the past, monetarily and spiritually, no doubt. You are giving what you can, now, through this article, and probably in person through face-to-face interactions. That is definitely worth a great deal. And, you have a taste of what Jesus experienced in his poverty, too. Do you not find it amazing how people can give when they seem to have so little? You will succeed! I'm sending loads of positive and loving energy!!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  6. jake

    What I am thankful for this Christmas:

    Everyone in my family is healthy, especially my kids.
    We have a roof over our heads.
    We have food in our stomaches.
    We are clothed.
    We have some very good friends.
    Even though I am still looking for work and have no savings we are a lot better off than many people who are living out of their cars.
    I am thankful I am living another day so I can enjoy my family and friends.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Narloc

      Time to buy a motorhome or trailer before you try living in your car. I've lived in cars. Having a place you can lie down is very important and should be provided to everyone, including having bathroom facilities. It's just good government.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  7. ThomasAndrew

    People are so miserable during the Christmas holiday, I work retail and everyone is in a rat race to get the "biggest and the best" that they lose sight of the purpose of the holiday altogether. My heart goes out to your family Tangela. I am a devout Christian but many of my friends and family know that I do not celebrate Christmas in the Traditional sense - I would rather Just visit friends and family instead of getting caught in the "Santa trap" and spending a small fortune on useless stuff.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • BooseyBoo


      December 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  8. Jamie

    I admire her honesty. We too are in a similar situation not even knowing if we can buy food. The reason why these people have a computer as do we, as it makes the job search possible. It is almost impossible to search for a job as most are listed on the internet not in the newspaper anymore. Good luck to you and your family I will pray for you and all suffering in these difficult econmic time.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  9. annebeth

    This womans’ story reflects a lot of American stories of once being middle class & able to give your children something extra nice for Christmas. When her family had money they helped needy children by way of the Angle tree & now her family is the one who needs help. She is in no way being materialistic because those people help no one but themselves in their quest to Have It All. I hope this family will be back on their feet soon.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  10. Marybeth

    Wow! People on this blog are mean! I think this is an honest story of a women who just wants to find a job and make her kids holiday magical. When did that make someone selfish??? It's not like her show stopper gift was a 65 inch flat screen.... It was a dump truck!!! What is so wrong with us wanting to buy our kids some fun things! It does not automatically make children spoiled or teach them the wrong lesson. I have lovely children....all of whom I buy gifts for. They are not spoiled or un-disciplined.... They are just nice kids who love Christmas. They know the true meeting.... We are a faithful family who celebrates God. It does not mean that there also can't get gifts. Give this poor women a break. God bless her.... And God bless any of you in her situation. For all of those judging, God bless you as well, because you haven't a clue. What a sad sad nation we're becoming when we can't simply feel empathy for people. 🙁

    December 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • LH

      You are so right Marybeth. Sadly, we are turning into a selfish, I got mine nation.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jamie

      I couldn't have said it better. I am shocked at how cruel some can be.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • BooseyBoo

      Really? She is still able to give them gifts not just the "big one".

      December 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Mary

      Boosey go back and actually read it. If her kids get presents this year they will be from some charity.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  11. imagine

    three years without a president and america nears a massive collapse that is spreading to europe and other countries...

    December 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  12. LH

    Republican President Ronald Reagan started the demise of the middle class in 1981. Rather than negotiate with the air traffic controllers, he just fired all of them. That was the signal big business waited for. Since our earliest Presidents over any 5-10 year period when worker productivity went up 4% a year, worker wages would go up 3%-4% a year. Since 1981 worker productivy averaged 4% higher a year, worker wages went up 1%-2% a year. Thats 60%-90% less pay for our middle class worker. Globilization has had some effect. BUT, that is the main reason.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  13. Phil

    Well, at least you still have your computer with which to blog. Congratulations.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Nice judgement Phil....I hope hardship never comes your way.
      PS -Thank goodness that libraries provide free computer use.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Servo

      Hey Phil,
      It's pretty self-agrandizing to may any statement regarding the genesis of this article. I don't know if you are aware, but many people without internet at home can use a local library and the product looks amazingly similar to what it would look like from a home computer. Way to apply your life experience to everyone else.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  14. Emily

    Why does it have to be feast or famine? Why do you have to have "showstoppers" when things are good and be on the charity list when things are bad? Something tells me that Ms. Ekhoff's family will never be satisfied. If things turn around and they find themselves doing well again, they'll just go back to assuming that the look on your child's face over a "showstopper" is the real meaning of Christmas. And if things stay the same, they'll still be on the charity list, writing about the drudgery of THAT rather than the gift of having a family.

    "We want nothing more than to provide for our children"? Yeah, right. This article isn't about providing; this article is about providing "showstoppers."

    You're what's wrong with charity, Ms. Ekhoff.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Lisa

      Read it again, you obviously didn't understand it.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  15. random wishes for your future happiness

    Good luck!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  16. A mom

    You are hilarious, Tangela, and you will prevail. I get that you mention the "Showstopper" gift not as a woe-is-me complaint that there's no big present, but instead as a contrast to this year – normal has changed for your family.

    I don't understand why there's so much anger in these comments and assumptions that her kids are spoiled and need to work hard. Sounds to me like mom and dad are working pretty darn hard. Raking leaves and cleaning other people's houses aren't jobs that you take if you are lazy.

    Last year's gift wasn't a helicopter with a pilot, or a new computer, or even an iPod touch – it was a $20 plastic talking dumptruck! (Google it!) That's spoiled? You guys are giving this woman crap because she wowed her little kid with a Tonka Truck? Give me a break! You are completely missing the point of this essay.

    I'd hire her over you yahoos any day if I was a hiring manager. And that's the point of this essay, I think. She's funny, smart, willing to work hard, and even with all of that and her husband doing the same, wowing her kid with a $20 toy is just a memory.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • SinkingFast

      I like your style.

      December 18, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  17. The Canadian

    Stop praying and life will be better.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Sam

      Start praying and your life will be abundant!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • jojo

      stop trying to convert believers to your own religion of atheism and do someting useful....have a blessed day and may the Lord forgive you for your stupidity, you community college CLOWN

      Praise the Lord

      December 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Ebadiah

      Stop praying and use that time to accomplish something in the real world. Besides, it should only take a second to pray, otherwise you are just talking to a wall of nothingness in a bid to make yourself feel better. And then the real world is still all around you showing your prayers to be nothing but empty ritual.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  18. Rudolph

    the Christmas holiday traditions are all lies created to memorialize a myth... and we buy into it. Pressure to spend when we can't afford in an attempt to entertain and impress people we don't really like so we can feel less loathsome of ourselves....

    December 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  19. Nora

    But still, this Tangela Ekhoff, and everyone of you whining about how poor you have become this year, owns a computer!!!! I think you haven't seen what real poverty is like. You should all thank for what you have. You know how many people live in the dirt?? I mean houses (if you can call those houses) made out of carton or aluminum, with dirt floors???? I bet even your dogs have a decent doghouse to sleep in.

    December 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • clem

      I bet Nora is a repukelican....hateful, mean spirited, and rude

      December 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Lisa

      Ridiculous assumption. Ever go to a library? You know, those public buildings in towns, full of books you can borrow, CDs, DVDs too? They also have computers that are always full. Go into one sometime, you may learn something too.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • jda

      How many gifts do you have sitting under your tree? You'd better be willing to sell them all to donate the proceeds if you feel so strongly about true poverty.

      December 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Nora

      I doubt any of you are in a public library right now, are you Lisa????? And even if you were, you still don't realize that being able to have access to a computer wether is in a public library or not, is a luxury millions of people don't have. There are kids that have to walk miles to go to a school with no library, not to say a computer, and they go because they can get a little breakfast for free, so at least they can eat something for the day. And yes, believe it or not I do something about it, I bet a million dollars any of you have felt what is like to be inside a car surrounded by at least 60 (really poor) hungry people trying desperately to get one of the ham sandwiches that are being given. That is poverty, not the empty Christmas tree you all whine about. So, I say it again, you all should be thankful for what you have.

      December 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  20. Susan

    Give this lady a break! She's being honest, and her honesty reflects my reality – call it wrong, call it materialistic; it is what we were brought up to believe. Good luck with the job hunting!

    December 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Dick Dover


      December 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Chas

      I agree Susan, we all have our own expectations and our own personal views on how things are supposed to be! Good Bless you and Tangela this Holiday Season and may the New Year be the best ever!

      December 18, 2011 at 12:31 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.