Ask the Christmas Expert: Beth Kempton
Beth Kempton describes herself as a wanderer, an adventurer and a seeker of beauty, with an incurable addiction to books, chocolate and stationery. Beth has been obsessed with Christmas since she was a little girl, and her eldest daughter was born on Christmas Day. It was almost inevitable that one day she would write a book about Christmas, which turned out to be Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy
Beth is an award-winning entrepreneur and self-help author, whose books have been translated into 24 languages. She teaches and writes about doing what you love and living well. Her first book Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love. (Hay House) is an uplifting manual for feeling free. Beth’s second book Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life (Piatkus) holds a wealth of valuable life lessons extracted from centuries-old Japanese culture and aesthetics, inspired by a twenty-year love affair with Japan. Beth has a Masters degree in Japanese and is a dedicated student of Japanese life.
1. What inspired you to write Calm Christmas?
I have been obsessed with Christmas since I was small, and have spent it in many different ways – with a heart full of anticipation as a child; warming my hands by a temperamental electric fire deep in the mountains as an exchange student; sunburnt on a boat crossing the Equator in my twenties; and, most memorably, in a hospital giving birth to my eldest daughter. I have been overjoyed, overwhelmed, stressed, relaxed, cold, hot, happy, sad, feeling loved, feeling lonely, surrounded by family, thousands of miles from family, single, married, before children, with children. With each passing year I am more aware how much I enjoy the simple life.
My love of Christmas is legendary in our family, but more recently 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. When our daughters came along, my husband and I started to think more about what kind of Christmas we wanted to weave into their childhoods, and how we might craft a shared celebration that would leave us all feeling full of love, gratitude and energy.
The first step was to strip it all back and discover what ‘Christmas’ truly meant to us. The experiment that followed over the next few years became a calmer approach to Christmas. So many of us hold Christmas dear, and yet find it somehow wanting year after year, whether it’s because it doesn’t match up to a nostalgic memory of what it used to be, or because of a deep-seated longing for what we feel it could be. In writing Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year my intention was to offer a lantern leading readers through the darkness of winter and back to the magic of the season, encouraging people to take good care of themselves along the way.
2. Which book inspired you the most to become a writer?
I have adored books all my life, but the first one to really make me understand that books can change the way people think was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig. It’s one of only a handful of books I have read more than once, and it blows my mind every time.
3. What is the one piece of advice that you would offer someone going into the ‘stressful’ Christmas period?
Take a moment to get intentional about what kind of Christmas you want to create based on the year you have had, and what you want and need this season. For example, a calm Christmas, a magical Christmas, a jolly Christmas, or a quiet Christmas. There is no right answer, it’s up to you, but do yourself a favour and avoid the word perfect, or that will just add to the pressure! Then use that intention to help you make decisions on what you say yes to, what you say no to, what you spend money on, who you spend time with, and what you prioritise this year.
4. Do you think that books can have healing properties?
Without a shadow of a doubt. They can be healing in many ways – for the writer in the writing of them, for the reader in the reading of them, and for the way they tell people that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. Many books help people to heal themselves through practical advice and inspiration, but the act of reading beautiful words can, in itself, be healing. I think this is one of the reasons libraries are so important in our lives. A well-curated library is somehow so much more than the sum of the books in it.
5. For you, which three books epitomise the Christmas season?
Of books still in print it would have to be the following:
- Village Christmas by Laurie Lee
- The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater
- New York Christmas: Recipes and Stories by Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup
Ultimate Library want to say a huge thank you to Beth for being our expert this month. You can find Beth on Instagram @bethkempton or online at her website, www.bethkempton.com to buy ‘Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy’ follow the link. (All photos by Holly Bobbins Photography)