With a 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.
“Having Christmas spirit is in my blood and has always been in my heart,” says the bubbly communications-radio/television/film and sociology grad.
Schaler’s original screenplay for “A Christmas Prince” (2017) became one of Netflix’s most watched movies ever. She immediately went on to write her original “Christmas Camp” movie for Hallmark, two Lifetime Christmas movies and three Christmas books — all in a span of 18 months.
This December, Schaler’s “Rediscovering Christmas” will premiere on Lifetime Dec. 15, just as she is wrapping up (no pun intended) her first real-life Christmas Camp at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona. For two weekends, the retreat for grownups brings her movie and books of the same name to life.
Determined to Succeed
Behind Schaler’s warmth and effusive enthusiasm is a savvy and driven high achiever.
As a 12-year-old in the Seattle area, she decided she wanted a career telling stories, so she researched universities to find the best broadcast journalism school. Cal State Fullerton was the one, but she couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. Undeterred, she left home at age 17 and worked as an educational nanny for a Southern California family to gain state residency.
At CSUF, Schaler worked two jobs and took classes year-round to finish two degrees in four years. And she found her true passion in the late Ronald Dyas’ screenwriting class. Dyas was known for being tough and not giving A’s. Schaler remembers him as realistic and authentic too — explaining the challenges of a screenwriting career but empowering students to try.
“He saw something in me and said I had a knack for screenwriting. And I got an A minus in the class,” she says proudly.
Schaler in her war correspondent days
After graduating and “scratching her way up” through nine small media markets as a television reporter and anchor, Schaler became the first journalist embedded with U.S. troops in Bosnia. She fought hard for the opportunity to deliver these difficult war stories and made the most of it — winning the first of three Emmy awards.
Countdown to Christmas
In 2007, though, Schaler felt the urge to change course and tell more uplifting human interest stories. She quit her job, moved to New York City and wrote a travel book. When the Great Recession hit, though, she had to scramble. Returning to her broadcasting roots and dredging up the video shooting and editing skills she had learned at CSUF, she shot and produced TV segments to promote her book. This eventually turned into her ongoing Travel Therapy® TV broadcast, which inspires and empowers viewers through travel destinations.
A few years later, sidelined from travel due to a medical situation, Schaler decided to finally write a Christmas movie. The result was “A Christmas Prince,” and the start of her career as “Christmas Karen.”
Christmas Karen believes that the demand for her work is a response to negative news and uncertainty in the world. “Christmas movies are a safe haven, something we can count on to bring us joy and know we’re going to get a happy ending,” she explains. Her Christmas Camp getaway, which includes holiday baking, stargazing and a movie night, also provides a respite and escape.
Advice for Students
Schaler is grateful for her Titan education and experience, but would offer this advice to current CSUF students: “Don’t be afraid to take classes outside your area. I didn’t take business courses because I thought I wouldn’t be good at them, and they certainly would be handy now that I’m running three businesses.
“You really can do anything you want to do. Get the tools, get the help and surround yourself with a supportive community like the one at CSUF. And when the door closes, jump through the window.”
Read more about Schaler and her projects on her website.