Take Joy by Tasha Tudor (The World Publishing Company, 1966)
I have no idea how this wonderful book came to be in the possession of a small girl (me) in Leeds in the late 1970s. I think it came from my Grandparent’s house when my Granddad moved into sheltered housing, but how they came to own it in the first place is lost in the mists of time. I’ve met no-one else who’s read it, or has even heard of Tasha Tudor, making me think this is a very American book – like ‘Make Way for Ducklings’, which I believe is a kind of set text of American childhood, but rarely read in the UK.
‘Take Joy’ was published in 1966, in a wide format (there is probably a proper publishing term for it!) in red binding, and with a dark blue dust jacket featuring a children sitting round a Christmas Tree, it is beautiful:
This blue dust-jacketed version is the edition I had, so it’s truly annoying that I now cannot find it (I even went and checked the parental loft, but to no avail) so I write this is all from memory, quite strong ones, prompted by the online facsimile I’ll post a link to below*.
Tasha Tudor was born in Boston in 1915, she illustrated over 100 books during her long life, and wrote many books herself – she died at the age of 92 in 2008. Her illustrations are beautiful, they seem to glow from within, they are whimsical but sweet without being too sweet. I am not sure why I, for one, never seem to see her work mentioned much. I am surprised it’s not on tea towels and such absolutely everywhere, but I suppose we have Beatrix Potter for that (they were almost contemporaries, and Tudor has been likened to Potter). In 1971 Tasha Tudor settled in Vermont, where her family still live on the farm she built and their own surrounding properties. They keep her memory going, and many of her family have followed in her footsteps – you can visit their beautiful website here.
‘Take Joy’ felt different to any other book I’d read, it felt somehow exotic. Of course we had American television and films but we weren’t as aware of American culture as we are now (no UK school had a prom in those days!). I knew very little about New England other than that was where the Pilgrims had landed. However, Christmas at Tudor Farm looked snowy and beautiful, and not at all like Christmas in a suburb of Leeds. There were ‘cornucopias’ and a “creche in the oven” (we had a very old gas cooker, how do you put a creche in there?). I was fascinated.
The book contains extracts from Christmas stories I knew – A Christmas Carol, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree – and others I had never heard of – The Caravan, The Christmas Coin. This is the first place I read O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of The Magi’. Also included are a section of Christmas legends, and of Christmas songs with the sheet music – including “Joy to The World”, which is rarely sung over here!. There are recipes too, and poems.
It is beautifully illustrated throughout starting with the Christmas Story according to St Luke and on through fairy tale and legend. There are children gathering greenery, hanging stockings and making things. Even on a page featuring a poem or sheet music you’ll find a beautiful border in monochrome or colour. At the end, a little mouse with a holly sprig, and a garland wishing us Merry Christmas
Although I didn’t know it at the time what I was experiencing was nostalgia for another time, a probably idealised early 20th Century New England when things were simpler, brilliantly conjured by Tasha Tudor. A simple rural life in a beautiful place is such an attractive proposition, even more so when the Christmas madness starts up! I haven’t opened this book for at least 30 years, but it springs to mind every Christmas and the contemplation of it makes me feel calmer.
You can view an online facsimile of the 1966 edition of Take Joy here: https://archive.org/details/takejoytashatudo00intudo/page/n161
and The Tudor Family Website here: https://www.tashatudorandfamily.com/
*If a little elf were to find my copy, I’d be delighted.