Becoming ‘Christmas Karen’

During tough times, a Titan alumna spreads hope through feel-good holiday stories.

By Karen Lindell / Photos Courtesy of Karen Schaler

With her birthday on Dec. 19 and a great aunt legally named Merry Christmas Day, it may not be too surprising that Cal State Fullerton alumna Karen Schaler ’87 — a.k.a. “Christmas Karen” — has made a career out of spreading Yuletide cheer through feel-good holiday stories.

Schaler’s original screenplay for “A Christmas Prince” (2017) became an overnight sensation for Netflix, spawning two sequels. She followed with her original “Christmas Camp” movie for Hallmark, two Lifetime Christmas movies and four Christmas books — all within three years.

The double major in communications- radio/TV/film and sociology then brought the magic of her books and movies to life, holding “Christmas Camp” getaways in Arizona that feature culinary and wine tasting classes, holiday crafts and activities, movie nights and “Christmas Karen” chats.

How did you go from being a war correspondent to “Christmas Karen”?

After graduating from CSUF, I worked as a TV anchor and reporter in nine different markets. I won my first Emmys for the documentaries I produced and reported as the first correspondent embedded with troops in Bosnia (1995) and Afghanistan (2007). After Afghanistan, wanting to tell more uplifting and empowering stories, I quit TV news and created a Travel Therapy book and TV series. When a health issue forced me to slow down, I wrote my first Christmas movie, “A Christmas Prince.” As I wrote more holiday movies and books, the press nicknamed me “Christmas Karen.”

How did your Cal State Fullerton experience inform your career?

I credit Cal State Fullerton with teaching me to persevere and pivot quickly, which is something I’ve done throughout my career, and especially now during the pandemic. At CSUF, I found my true passion in the late Ronald Dyas’ screenwriting class. Dyas was a tough professor and realistic about the challenges of a screenwriting career, but he empowered us to try. He saw something in me and said I had a knack for screenwriting. When he gave me an A-, it helped me believe I could do what I loved, and I never looked back.

How has the pandemic changed your work?

The pandemic changed everything. I had to suddenly leave New York City and address devastating health issues with family and friends. Professionally, all my projects were put on hold. What keeps me going is knowing the stories I write are uplifting. I’ve had people reach out saying they’re watching my movies and reading my books because it brings them some peace and comfort, and that’s the best compliment I could ever get right now.

What are your current and upcoming projects?

My fans have been asking for two things: more chats like those at Christmas Camp, and my next Christmas book. I launched a new show called “Christmas Karen: Behind the Story,” where I talk to the writers, directors, actors and producers who help create TV Christmas movies. They share their own personal journeys, inspiring tips and advice. My book “Christmas Ever After” just published, and to make that happen, I had to start my own publishing company. Learning a new industry has been intense, but now I can donate part of the proceeds from each book sale to help support libraries and independent bookstores.

For Christmas Camp, we’ll be offering a few safe, modified versions in 2020, and we’re already planning for 2021. I’m also in development for my next Christmas movie and writing the movie version of “Christmas Ever After.”

How do you think this holiday season will be amid the pandemic?

The holidays this year are going to be more important than ever to give us hope. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa or the Chinese New Year, I believe the holiday season is universal in how it celebrates and embraces family, friends, faith, community, hope and happiness. The holidays bring us together, and even if we can’t physically see each other, we’re together in our hearts and memories. It’s a comfort to know we’re not alone — we’re connected throughout the season and always.

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