By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Organising all the presents and dinner is a challenge for most households at Christmas time.
But imagine the stress of trying to do it in a family with 14 children.
That is exactly the situation facing the Johnston family, from Co Down in Northern Ireland.
Jennifer Johnston (42) has recently given birth to her 14th child and she told of the festive fun of trying to cook Christmas dinner for one of the biggest families on the island.
Jennifer and her husband Mark’s full family is Chloe (23), Dylan (21), Ethan (20), Nadia (turns 18 on Christmas Eve), Kezia (15), Kaleb (14), Joell (12), Alfie (nine), Lydia (eight), Sofia (six), Heidi (four), Ebony (three), Jaxon (one) and Freya, who was born in November. All of their names are made up of five letters.
Jennifer said: “I always loved kids and I always wanted a big family. It was always my plan, but I didn’t think we would go this far.
“My mum is one of eight, that is the biggest family we ever knew, but we have gone even further.”
Thirteen of the 14 Johnston children still live at the family home near Newry, with just the eldest, Chloe, having moved out.
Jennifer said laundry and cooking were amongst the biggest challenges she faces every day.
“Keeping up with the washing and looking for socks, every morning we are looking for socks and they are so hard to find.
“Knowing what to make for dinner every day, that is a big challenge.
“If I could have a chef, that would be the one thing that I would want. The cooking is a big thing.
“On an average day I get up about half six, start to get them ready for school, get their breakfast, teeth done, coats on and out the door for school.
“Homework is just crazy, it’s very hard to get them all to do it sometimes but we always get there.
“They love TV, computers, phones. They socialise now through the PlayStation. Some of them are into hockey and some of them are into football.”
Preparations for Christmas start early in the Johnston home.
Jennifer said: “We have to start preparing for Christmas around January, saving for things and then putting things away. Keeping an eye on things and comparing prices, because it is an expensive time of year.
“But the craic in this house at Christmas is just brilliant. There are just so many presents.
“I do all the cooking for Christmas dinner myself. Normally I can get everyone around the table, but I have a breakfast bar there as well, some are round the breakfast bar and some are round the table.
“My dad gets the turkey for us every year, he keeps a couple down on the farm and we always get the biggest one. My mum has it oven ready for us, so we are very lucky.
“Santa is going to be very busy with our house.”
Christmas will be a double celebration this year with daughter Nadia turning 18 on Christmas Eve.
Not surprisingly, the Johnstons are currently building an extension onto their home.
“It’s to make a bigger living room area, we are going to make a big open plan, because we are already thinking ahead to the grandchildren,” Jennifer said.
Her latest birth proved to be one of the most difficult yet.
Jennifer said: “When Freya was being born I fell in the labour ward and put my arm out to protect myself and broke my wrist.
“Going through labour with a broken wrist wasn’t very nice, now.
“I’m still recovering, still a lot of physio to be done. My mum has had to help me out with changing some nappies.”
So, with a family of 14 already, is Jennifer planning on having any more children in the future?
“Never say never,” she said.