Meeting his footballing hero has made an indelible mark on one young adult at St Oswald’s Hospice – quite literallyRead More
Q&A with Beth Kempton, author of Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year
Tell us a little about you and what you do…
I am a mother of two girls, an author of six self-help books and a Japanologist by training. I am a curious explorer of the world, a beauty seeker and, as my husband says, a rebel with a dictionary. I am also a daughter who lost her mother to cancer this year, facing her first Christmas without her mother in the world.
In just one or two sentences, what does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas is a microcosm of the human experience – it is a container of joy and sadness, light and darkness, hope and disappointment, tension and bliss, reality and magic. For me it is a precious marker in the year, a time of memories treasured and newly created, and I absolutely love it.
My eldest daughter was born on Christmas Day, and we always say she came into the world bringing winter magic with her, so it is very special from that point of view too.
What inspired you to write “A Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year”? How have your own Christmases changed since writing the book?
I wrote Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year several years ago, having loved Christmas all my life but having become disillusioned with the commerciality of it.
It was particularly overwhelming on our first baby’s first birthday, which was also her first Christmas after the one when she arrived into the world. Our lounge was awash with presents, many of them made of plastic – lots of well intentioned things that a one year old baby absolutely did not need. That year we made some important decisions about present giving, but still something felt off.
A couple of years later, when our second child was a small baby, we had all my family over for Christmas Day. My family is lovely, but it was utterly exhausting, not at all enjoyable or relaxing, and my husband Mr K and I hardly saw each other all day long, with him in the kitchen cooking and me looking after the baby and hosting everyone, while trying to watch our toddler open her presents.
At the end of that day we flopped on the sofa shattered, and my husband turned to me and said “I don’t even like turkey.” Neither do I, but we had never had a conversation about turkey. We made a pact there and then to decide what kind of Christmas we wanted and needed each year depending on the situation and our life stage, and it has been a joy ever since.
These days we go for simple cooking, often prepared on Christmas Eve, allowing us plenty of time to go to the beach on Christmas Day. Last year I went in for a chilly swim, then sat on the shoreline singing Christmas songs, drinking hot chocolate and eating sausage rolls with our little family feeling like we had finally figured it out.
I actually wrote Calm Christmas a few years ago, not knowing that it would become a lantern for me too in this darkest of seasons this year, but it has made a huge resurgence this year, perhaps with the calls of the shopping centres getting louder, the sales getting earlier, and the world becoming more chaotic. Christmas can be a precious, calm and beautiful time of reflection and connection – and even magic – if we choose to intentionally make it so.
What is your favourite Christmas tradition (old or new)?
I have a few, which are spread throughout December:
- Going to the Christmas tree farm to feed the reindeer and choose a tree
- Decorating it all together with mulled wine and mince pies and Christmas tunes on. This year something extraordinary happened – we were hanging decorations on the tree and reminiscing about how
- Grandma had helped us last year, and talking about how much we miss her, when my phone started ringing in my pocket. I took it out to switch it off and saw that it was calling her. She died in April. My children and I stared at the phone, and each other, and back at the phone and I didn’t stop shaking for a long time. Magic.
- Putting up fairy lights everywhere (although to be honest last Christmas I left them up and we have enjoyed them all year round)
- Getting up at 5am while it is still dark and writing by candlelight.
- Making advent calendars and treasure hunts. This year we made an advent calendar for my dad, with a little present in it – like a story or a picture or some treats for his dog – knowing that he will be on his own for most of December.
- Writing long letters in Christmas cards to friends far away.
- Going to the Christmas Market and Christmas shopping with my husband, stopping off for coffee in a cosy café and making plans
- Using the time between Christmas and New Year, which I call ‘The Hush’ to write, think, read poetry, reflect, be grateful and look ahead to the coming year.
If you could celebrate Christmas with anyone, anywhere – who and where would it be?
I love celebrating with my sweet family at home, although we talked yesterday about how dreamy it would be to be somewhere snowy on Christmas Day, like a cabin in a forest in Canada.
What’s your best piece of advice to our staff and volunteers for creating a Calm Christmas?
Ask yourself what kind of Christmas you want and need this year, then give yourself permission to have it. Life is wild and glorious, hard and beautiful.
Christmas is a moment to pause and remember that, and allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling, and remember the miracle of this precious life.
Think of the one thing that brings you most joy at Christmas and do it, even if no-one else is interested. There is a particular kind of joy in going to a candlelit carol service alone (and sneaking in mince pies in your handbag of course) – much better than dragging along people who don’t want to be there.
Don’t spend money you can’t afford, it’ll only bring unnecessary stress. Focus on gifts for the most precious people in your life and then find other ways to celebrate friendships – go on a wintery walk or Christmas picnic together, write beautiful cards, call and have a good chat.
Don’t overschedule things. Plan in recovery time between events, especially if you are hosting, and set aside time to get quiet and journal about the year, focusing on the blessings in your life.
Tell us a little about your mum and your experience of hospice care?
For my mum the hospice was a sanctuary after her experience at the hospital, which had been very noisy and busy. Everyone was so thoughtful and caring, honest about her situation, and accommodating to our family.
Having a garden to spend time in was a real treasure. It was an incredibly emotional time for us – we only had three weeks between her terminal diagnosis and when she died at the hospice, but we spent every minute we could with her and had some very precious – even magical – moments together.
The first Christmas without a loved one can be really difficult – what are you doing to make it a little easier for yourself and your family? What will you do differently (or the same) this year to remember or honour your mum?
I have created a whole episode for my Calm Christmas Podcast all about pausing, honouring and remembering those we love and miss. My mum was aware of her situation, and spent time helping me prepare this series, knowing that our first Christmas without her would be incredibly difficult.
While I know some people choose to turn away from Christmas and not decorate etc, which is absolutely fine if that’s what they want to do, I am doing the opposite, going all out to bring as much light and joy into our home as possible. We went to the Christmas tree farm in late November, got two trees and have fairly lights and candles everywhere.
We are focusing on all the things she loved. I have also made a plan to go alone to a carol service so I can think about her, and remember all the beautiful services we have enjoyed together over the years. I will also be spending time with my journal, reading poetry and allowing myself quiet time away from the chaos of the season.
The special episode of the podcast is called In the Bleak Midwinter (Season 3 Episode 7) and it will be released on December 16 2023. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts or via Beth’s website.
Listen to the Calm Christmas Podcast on Apple Podcasts:
Listen to the Calm Christmas Podcast on Spotify Podcasts: