Christmas With Tasha Tudor

TASHA TUDOR is like one of her magical story characters come true.

A small woman, she has smile wrinkles at the corner of her eyes. (Some people get smile wrinkles because they laugh easily.) She has silver-gray hair tied up in a kerchief. Her speech is slow, low, careful, clear, and sweet.

She lives on a wonderful Vermont farm with her family of animals - 40 caged birds, 10 goats, chickens galore, and her beloved corgi dogs, including a new litter. But more on the corgis later.

She lives independently, the way most people lived in the 1830s. She dresses in old-fashioned style, does all her own cooking, spinning, weaving, and goat milking. She even grows her own fruits and vegetables in her gardens and orchards. Still, she insists, "I live a perfectly ordinary lifestyle. I'm not an unusual person. I'm like all the rest of you."

What better time to get to know Tasha Tudor than at Christmas time? She is the author and illustrator of more than 40 books for children. Many of her books are about Christmas. A good example - you may know it already - is "Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book."

"I think a great deal of Christmas. I think everyone does, do you not?" she wonders. "First, we always celebrate the winter solstice on the 21st of December. We make a fine bonfire." She laughs with glee at the thought.

"We have a very beautiful Christmas tree. A spruce. I've never bought one. I always cut it from the woods. I have a collection of splendid ornaments that I've had in my family since 1858. Also, we make cornucopias and gingerbread creatures with all sorts of frosting on them."

What adventures! And her four grown children with their children join in.

Nearer to Christmas, the whole family lends a hand to produce a special presentation. "We always have a big dinner party for dogs, dolls, and bears, just before Christmas. It's a literary dinner, you see, and there's a contest for who writes the best story."

When her children were young, "we lived in New Hampshire, right near St. Paul's School," a local boarding school. "The children came over from the school and entered our contest. It's all very exciting. We decided the corgis needed some entertainment, so that's when I started making the marionettes."

The corgis, of course, also get treats. What is a corgi? Its formal name is "Welsh corgi" - a happy, loyal dog once used to herd cattle. They're much loved by Queen Elizabeth of England, Tasha Tudor, her family, and many others.

"We lived in England for a year, and my boys, of course, went to school there. One of my sons had a tutor in Latin. The tutor had a corgi, and my son fell in love with it. When he saved pennies, I thought it was a childish whim. But not at all. He worked hard and saved." By the time he'd saved enough, the family had returned to the United States. A British pastor was kind. He chose and sent a corgi, says Mrs. Tudor.

Since then, corgis have found their way into her artwork. "Corgiville" is a picture of an enchanted village. It is one of the most joyful of Tasha Tudor's Christmastime illustrations, with crowds of critters gathered for festivities at the heart of town.

Christmas Day is a time of feasting and deep meaning at Tasha Tudor's home.

"We always roast a turkey in front of an old reflector [old-fashioned] oven that was my great-grandmother's. I think I've sold more people on old-fashioned `tin kitchens' than I can count on my fingers and toes. You've never tasted a better turkey."

There are pies and plumb pudding, and cider - all homemade.

The dolls in Tasha Tudor's doll house give and get presents too.

Tasha Tudor has delicious memories of her childhood Christmases. "The tree seemed absolutely enormous. My father's birthday fell on Christmas, and my mother always made an enormous cake." Tasha and her brother used to play with an edible homemade Christmas "house." They played for a while and then gobbled it down.

"It seemed to me an eternity from Christmas to Christmas," she recalls today. "It's all much too important to be taken seriously, don't you think?" `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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