Christmas with 12 children!

Joanne Ross


Joanne Ross


CHRISTMAS morning at the Johnston home is no different to many other families.

Children excitedly ripping open presents, chocolate for breakfast and laughter in the air.

But in the Johnston household, Santa fills 12 stockings for Mark and Jennifer’s 12 children.

As one of the area’s biggest families, Christmas is busy and expensive.

“Christmas morning can only be described as crazy. Paper everywhere, sweets everywhere, children everywhere but it’s a happy time,” Jennifer says.

The Newry couple and their remarkable family, aged from 10-week-old Ebony to 20-year-old Chloe, are to feature on BBC NI Newsline this month.

A film crew was out documenting the family’s excitement in the run-up to Christmas in a special feature by reporter Julie McCullough.

Painter Mark went to Kilkeel High with the husband of Julie who hails from Mourne.

When they met up after not seeing each other for years, conversation turned to their families.

“He just couldn’t believe it when Mark said he had 12 children and wanted to tell his wife about us, that’s how it all came about.” Jennifer (39) said.

“Initially I wasn’t keen on the idea of being on TV and wasn’t going to do it, but we thought it would be a great experience for the wee ones and something to look back on.

“They just loved it! They loved meeting the cameraman and seeing how it all worked behind the scenes.”

Reporter Julie and the camera crew spent a couple of hours with the family chatting to them about what Christmas is like in their home for a special segment on BBC’s Newsline expected to air before Christmas.

Jennifer, a daughter of Norman and Mary Henning from the Belfast Road area of Newry, has one sister Denise and two brothers Thomas and Andrew.

While Kilkeel-born Mark, son of Jean and the late Joseph, has five brothers.

The couple married 20 years ago and it was always their plan to have a big family.

“We both wanted lots of children. I did say I wanted 12 and when people ask about making our family a baker’s dozen, I just joke ‘Never say never!’”

The family is very close-knit which is something Jennifer is very proud of.

“Every night before they go to bed, they all say to each other ‘night, night. Love you’. There’s a great bond between them all from our eldest Chloe right down to the tiniest.”

And preparing for Christmas starts as soon as the turkey leftovers are finished.

“Really, Christmas planning starts in January. We save from January to December for Christmas and if I can get a bargain, I will.

“I try not to pay full price for anything and keep my eyes open over the year for any bits for the children.”

The children ask Santa for one big present and some surprises although Jennifer has noticed as they get older “the presents get smaller and more expensive”.

In addition to their presents from Santa, the children all get Christmas Eve bags each from mum and dad.

“In these bags, we put a selection box, a wee cup for hot chocolate, reindeer food, a reading book or something to build, some new pyjamas and fluffy socks. They all really look forward to their new pyjamas!

“On Christmas Eve, we scatter the food for the reindeer then it’s become a tradition to take a Christmas picture on our stairs of everyone in their new pyjamas.”

The wake-up call on Christmas morning comes at 7.30am with the boys usually up first. After opening their presents, Jennifer prepares a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings as they prepare to spend a day at home.

On Boxing Day, she hosts Mark’s mum Jean and Barry and her parents with other family members visiting the next day.

Christmas is all about family and although Jennifer admits it can be a “noisy and stressful time”, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My children really are my everything. They are my world and the reason I get out of bed every morning. They’re my life and I’m very proud of them all.”

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