As Christmas fast approaches, I had a chat with the wonderful Sarah and Kunak about their latest book, The A to Z of an Irish Christmas.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Sarah: We wrote this book because we both LOVE Christmas and we thought we’d spread some Christmas cheer. We didn’t know at the time that there would be a pandemic, then there was one and I just think that this is a lovely book for people who are stressed or away from home. So, it’s a little bit of an Irish Christmas for them.
Kunak: Sarah and I are both nuts for nostalgia. And the nostalgia doesn’t get much more feel-good than when it’s Christmas nostalgia. And nobody does Christmas better than the Irish. We have taken all the best bits of Christmas, and then added our own little touches to make it unique – like the Barry’s Tea ad, the Late Late Toy Show, the smoked salmon and the spiced beef. We have the Arnotts Santa and the Brown Thomas window, the Christmas Day swim in freezing waters, and the Wren Boys on Stephen’s Day. From the first bars of ‘Fairytale of New York’ in early December right up to Women’s Christmas on the 6th January, we’ve got it all sorted.
What do you love about Christmas?
Sarah: My favourite thing about Christmas is watching Christmas movies! My all time favourite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life and then Home Alone and Elf. It wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t watch them. I also love getting a real tree and putting it up. This year, I’m looking forward to having Christmas with my kids.
Kunak: To this day, I can still remember the absolute joy and excitement of waking up on Christmas morning, moving my foot under the duvet and hearing the rustle of the wrapped presents that Santa had left there. That moment, for me, was the pinnacle of all the pre-Christmas build-up, and was also filled with all the potential of the day ahead, full of present-opening and new toys and selection boxes. Does life get better than that? And writing this book with Sarah was about capturing that sheer joy and hoping that we can spread it to others – particularly this year, when we can all do with a lift in our spirits.
For me now, my favourite day is probably Christmas Eve. The house is filled with the smell of baked ham, all the presents are bought and wrapped, and it’s about meeting family, maybe a lazy couple of hours watching a children’s Christmas classic, and a ham sambo for the dinner. After the kids have gone to bed, it’s out with the Baileys or the mulled wine, a bit of a chat and a laugh, and maybe even opening a sneaky present from under the tree at midnight. Then it’s off to bed in the hope that the kids will sleep in until at least 7am.
And I LOVE Christmas dinner. I love the turkey, the ham (my mouth’s watering), the roasties, the veg, the gravy, the stuffing (bread and sausage). In fact, I really don’t know why I don’t cook it more often throughout the year. But you know what? That’s part of what makes it so special.
Ultimately, for me, Christmas is all about family – the kids, the grandparents, catching up with the brothers and sisters, sitting around the table, exchanging gifts, the chat, the board games, the sing-songs, the silly arguments. Wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
What were your three favourite entries?
Sarah: Box of Crisps because I think it’s so funny that people buy big boxes of crisps at Christmas – it’s just so bizarre.
The Santa entry with the list of the Santas and Kunak wrote at the end of that entry, ‘it doesn’t matter what you call him as long as you believe’. Every time I read that, I well up; I think it’s very sweet.
Baileys – everyone loves Baileys at Christmas! I never have it any other time of the year – it’s hilarious.
Kunak: My favourite entries: The Dinner, Early Start, and Nativity. I also like Raffles and Selection Box.
Was there an entry that you had never heard of before?
Sarah: My auntie told me about the Andrews Liver Salts – I’d never heard of that but we put it in because we were looking for something from different generations.
Kunak: I had never heard of the Wexford Carol! One of the oldest known carols – dating back to the twelfth century. We should be proud!
Is there any entry you disagreed on or debated?
Sarah: I don’t think so, Kunak might say differently!
Kunak: Sarah insisted that we include Andrews Liver Salts. Never before had I heard that parents would give them to children with tummies full of turkey and pudding. It sounds borderline immoral, to be honest, but she swears it was common practice back in the 80s. I had no choice but to believe her.
Sarah Cassidy and Kunak McGann, December 2020
The A to Z of an Irish Christmas and The A to Z of Being Irish are both available to order from your local bookshop!