What we would all like to know - how to have a Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year by Beth Kempton
If you're looking for a sensible, calming voice amongst the reindeer bells, carols and popping corks of Christmas, then Beth Kempton is the author for you, and her new book Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year. Her previous book Wabi-Sabi has been a solid Foyles favourite for the last year, and is bringing her wise thinking and supportive ideas to the topics of Christmas and New Year, which can be an overwhelming time for even the most organised person.
Here you can read an exclusive piece that Beth has written for Foyles to give you a taste of the book, and an understanding of how she came to write it
How to Have a Calmer Christmas
I have been obsessed with Christmas since I was a little girl, and this love affair is legendary in my family, with October bringing half-joking/half-serious questions about whether the carols have been played yet (they usually have). But there have been years when my favourite festival has lost its sparkle, tarnished by in-your-face commercialism and the pressure to fit elaborate preparations into our busy lives.
Things came into sharp focus a few years back, when we decided to host my whole family for Christmas dinner. At the time we had a five month old baby and a toddler (who also happens to celebrate her birthday on Christmas Day). Although we had visions of a jolly, fun-filled celebration, the reality was more like a hectic all-day restaurant service with the aftermath of a giant lucky dip on the side.
My family are lovely, but somehow I ended up waiting on everyone all day long, baby on my hip, whilst trying to watch my toddler open her presents, while my husband found himself stuck in the kitchen from morning until night serving up one thing after another. We barely spoke to each other except to talk logistics, as there was just so much to do.
At the end of the day when everyone had left and the girls were finally asleep, we collapsed on the sofa with leftover mulled wine and mince pies, looked at each other and saud, “What just happened? Let’s never do that again. And by the way, I don’t even like turkey.” “Are you serious? Neither do I.”
And with that we decided to change the way we approach Christmas. We started to think more about what kind of Christmas we wanted to weave into our daughters’ childhoods, and how we might craft a shared celebration that would leave us all feeling full of love, gratitude and energy. Ultimately, this meant having some tough conversations, letting go of perfection and finding new ways to honour the most important of our two families’ traditions.
The first step was to strip it all back and discover what ‘Christmas’ truly meant to us, then find ways to match that with the expectations of the friends and loved ones we would see during the season. We also wanted to preserve a calm space in the middle of it all in which we could rest and prepare ourselves for the year ahead.
The experiment that followed over the next few years became a calmer approach to Christmas, and the bones of my book Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year. It also led us to making a flavours-of-Christmas-but-not-turkey pie. I cook up the filling on Christmas Eve and leave it in the fridge overnight to get even more delicious. Then on Christmas morning we go for a windy walk on the beach, and then just roll out some pastry and pop the pie in the oven when we get back home. So much more relaxing!
When I realized how much easier things can be, I knew wanted to write a book that inspires readers to do things their way, recognising that just as there is no one shape of a family, there is no one way to ‘do’ Christmas. We are repeatedly shown the same versions of a ‘perfect’ Christmas online, on TV and in the press and as a result, for many, it has become a time of unrealistic expectation and exhausting depletion, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
In researching the book and speaking to people from all walks of life, of all ages and backgrounds representing 37 different nationalities, I discovered one salient truth: every Christmas is unique, like a snowflake. Each one is a carefully constructed, complex narrative that has formed as Christmas has whirled across time and geography, down family lineages, through television and social media feeds, and around our kitchen tables. No two are ever the same, either from year to year or from person to person. We need to slow down and get up close to see the complex and particular beauty of each one.
Reaching out to all these people for their thoughts on Christmas whipped up a veritable snowstorm of memories and beliefs. However, when the flakes finally started to settle, a pattern emerged: all of the respondents seemed to value and identify with at least one of five essential stories of Christmas. These are tales of faith, magic, connection, abundance and heritage that have been told and retold for generations. Our personal connection to each of them offers a snapshot of what Christmas means to each of us at a particular moment in our lives. They provide clues to the triggers for our stress and the sources of our joy. They offer a framework for understanding our individual, deep-rooted views of Christmas and discerning what to hold on to and what to release.
Even more importantly, viewing Christmas through the lens of these five stories can increase our understanding of each other, which can have a monumental, positive impact on our shared experience of the festival. By understanding what matters most to ourselves and those close to us, we can organise our gatherings, prepare our hearts and strengthen our resolve to give and take just enough to ensure a calm, joyful Christmas for everyone.
Besides exploring these five stories of Christmas in depth, Calm Christmas includes a host of practical tools to help readers figure out what they want and need from Christmas this year, based on the kind of year they have just had. It acknowledges that sometimes Christmas is really hard, and that there are things we can do to make it a little easier. It also encourages readers to use that special time between Christmas and New Year to rest, reflect and plan for the year ahead.
I hope Calm Christmas will be a lantern leading readers through the darkness of winter, back to the real enchantment of the season. I hope it brings much joy.
Beth Kempton is also an award-winning entrepreneur and author of Wabi Sabi and Freedom Seeker. She describes herself as a wanderer, an adventurer and a seeker of beauty. As Founder and CEO of Do What You Love, Beth has produced and delivered online courses and workshops that have helped thousands of people all over the world to discover their passion, explore their creativity and live a more inspired life.