Jeni has 16 kids and 6 grandkids. This is how she does Christmas.

Jeni and Ray Bonell love Christmas, which is lucky when you consider they have 16 kids and six grandkids to factor into the planning, catering and present-buying process.

Speaking to Mamamia, Jeni shares how she plans over the course of the year to make every Christmas special, and why she feels a lot like Mrs Claus.

"I make a lot of lists and I absolutely have to check them twice," Jeni laughs.

"The whole family really enjoy preparing for Christmas and Ray and I feel very much feel like Santa and Mrs Claus."

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Jeni is not joking when she says she plans for next Christmas on Boxing Day. 

"Every year, I assign one of the kids to be my chief 'elf' for next Christmas and they will become my main helper and planner over the year. 

"It is a job the kids really look forward to as they get to the age of 14 or 15 as they get to be 'behind the scenes' with gift shopping and they can choose the Christmas theme or colour scheme, which in our house is a big deal."


The annual Christmas theme has varied from beach or ocean themes to more traditional Christmas colours, and the Bonell elf's first job is to consider what theme they will choose. This means that when the decorations are packed away for the previous Christmas, they can keep the ones they will need for next year on top of the pile.

"The kids have often thought about what they want to be for their year as elf for several years prior so they know exactly what they will choose when their time comes. We always repurpose decorations where we can and get crafty with making our own themed decorations for the big day."

Aside from getting organised with the decorations, Jeni's Christmas book is an ongoing source of information for the entire year of planning and budgeting. 

"I write everything in my Christmas book, which includes all the information I will need for shopping and catering.

"Each child has a list with columns and I add notes when I hear them talking about the things they want. This is also very useful when planning what Santa will bring and what we will buy, as we don't want double ups!

"I also add information on price so I can monitor what I am spending on each person so that it adds up to about the same per child. Everyone usually ends up with about three to four gifts each, depending on price."


The Bonell kids are making their lists. Image: Supplied.  

The family help Jeni with the process and she usually has their final gift lists by June or July so that everything can be purchased and stored well before December rolls around. 

"I try to do a mix of shopping locally and online and we have a very strict budget to stick to which I keep track of in my book. I have started using websites like Shopback to find bargains, to save money or receive cashback which is very helpful as you can imagine with so many kids to buy for!


"Mostly we try to have a lot of fun with it and the kids absolutely love scouring catalogues and websites for ideas. I keep notes of other things like their favourite chocolates and keep it all in my book. It is a very useful reference tool that will need replacing soon!

"The older kids who have jobs will buy something for each of the little kids and each other in a 'not so Secret Santa' so there are a lot of gifts to give!"

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The main decorations go up and present wrapping begins on December 1 with help from the chief Bonell elf.

"We decorate the tree and our family bus on December 1 and that's also the date we need to start gift wrapping.

"All the presents are stored in bags and labelled with each child's name so every night in the lead up to Christmas, the elf and I wrap a couple of bags to ensure we get through all the wrapping. The kids love this as every morning when they wake up, there'll be a few more wrapped pressies under the tree!

"Luckily none of my kids try to seek the presents out before the big day - they all love the surprise and don't want to ruin it." 


Jeni ensures the food planning and purchasing is done in advance and she usually opts for a mix of traditional Christmas fare that works well in the warm Toowoomba climate.

"We serve up a little of everything; ham, roast chicken and other cold meats with salads and the older kids bring dishes that we share. We often choose one dessert like plum pudding and serve it with plenty of ice cream. If the kids want to make a dish themselves, I am happy to have a go with them in the kitchen otherwise there are plenty of great products to buy ready to serve. 


"I don't want to get to Christmas Day and be too tired to enjoy it, so while I am up early on the day - my advanced planning and support from the kids and extended family is very important!"

The Bonell Family. Image: Supplied. 


On Christmas morning, the family wake up and open their presents from Santa while Jeni and Ray serve up breakfast fruit platters. This is also when the all-important theme is revealed by the elf.

"The kids are often more excited to come and see the Christmas table and work out what the theme is before they get into the present opening! The elf sometimes gives out accessories for family members to wear. The year we had a Hawaiian theme, we all had to wear grass skirts all day!" 

Ten of the Bonell kids still live at home, so sometime mid-morning, the older kids and grandkids arrive to enjoy more present opening followed by a big family lunch for 25 people.

"This might be the first year we have almost outgrown our big dining table!" Jeni says.

"After lunch, older members of the family might have to leave to visit their in-laws while the younger kids play with their new toys and we do a bit of a clean-up. 

"For dinner we eat leftovers and on Boxing Day we often get invited out for lunch by one of the older kids and it is a lot more chilled out!

"But then it's almost time to plan for next year!"

Find out more about the Bonell Family on their Facebook page.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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