Christmas With the Duggars

The Duggar family in a wintery setting
Case McCrea/TLC/Discovery Media

How do you find new ways to celebrate the Christmas season when it's already brimming with lights, cookies, songs, Nativity scenes and mountains of wrapping paper? If you're the Duggar family, you build a family float for the community Christmas parade. Add a camel, a donkey and a few goats, then sew costumes for your entire family and paint a few banners to share the Gospel message. Now you're celebrating in style!

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have shared more than 20 years of marriage. Together with their children — nine girls and 10 boys — Jim Bob and Michelle have been living out their faith and family values on the TLC reality show "19 Kids and Counting." So what does Christmas look like in the Duggar home? In many ways, their celebration is a reminder of the blessing and joy of giving.

Celebrating amid the chaos

Christmas morning is what you would imagine with 19 children: chaos complete with squeals of delight and tons of laughter.

To keep the gift giving manageable, the Duggars exchange names at Thanksgiving. Older kids get the names of older siblings, and younger kids get the names of younger siblings. Jim Bob and Michelle buy gifts as well. But where do you hide gifts for 19 children?

"In the outbuilding," Jim Bob says, "although the older ones have definitely figured that out by now."

Preparations for Christmas begin soon after the names are drawn, and the amazing gift of Jesus is always central to the Duggar holiday season. The garland with little white lights reminds the family they are the light of the world. The 2-foot-tall Nativity scene is prominently displayed, and the banners are hung: "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" "Christ Is Born!" "Joy to the World!"

On Christmas Eve, the final touch is added — 19 individualized gift bags with Pringles chips, beef jerky and special jars of pickles.

"Almost all of us like pickles, but each one likes a different kind," Michelle explains. "Same with the Pringles and the beef jerky. Christmas is the one time of year when every child gets their favorite flavor of each treat."

Loving in the losses

While the Duggar family is big on giving to others, they're also learning to receive from others.

Three years ago, Michelle was 25 weeks pregnant with their 19th child when she had health issues that required an emergency C-section. Jim Bob and Michelle knew they'd be staying at the hospital while their newborn daughter, Josie, was in the NICU. They were about three hours from home — and it was a week before Christmas!

When a friend of a friend who lived close to the Little Rock, Ark., hospital heard that the Duggars would be separated over Christmas, she invited the entire family to celebrate in her home while she was out of town. Thinking quickly, Jim Bob bought Nerf guns for the boys and some fun things for the girls. Although the family celebration may not have been traditional, Jim Bob believes it was one of their most memorable Christmas celebrations together.

Last year, Michelle was pregnant with their 20th child. During a routine ultrasound at 18 weeks, the doctors couldn't find a heartbeat. Jim Bob says, "We came home to tell the children, and it was very difficult. Then on Dec. 14, 11 days before Christmas, we held a funeral service for our daughter Jubilee Shalom."

Although the loss of Jubilee was a heart-wrenching experience for the whole family, Jim Bob and Michelle hold tight to their faith, knowing they will see precious Jubilee again someday.

Sharing with others

The Duggars recognize they are not the only ones to experience hardships during the holidays. The family helps out at local soup kitchens, and they do lots of holiday baking to share with family, friends and community workers.

For five years in a row, Jim Bob and Michelle, along with their 12 oldest children, traveled to remote villages in El Salvador two weeks before Christmas to reach out to families who don't have much beyond a tiny mud hut and sparse belongings. While the little ones stay at home with Grandma, the rest of the Duggars join missionaries in throwing a big Christmas party for all the families in the village. They enjoy sharing the true meaning of Christmas by telling the Gospel story.

The family prepares for El Salvador by packing Army duffle bags full of gifts. Jim Bob recalls, "One year we took backpacks to all the children. Another year we brought soccer balls for the boys and Hello Kitty stuff for the girls. The fun thing was to go back the next year and see how they were still holding the gifts we'd given them the previous year."

Whether they're traveling internationally, shopping for gifts locally or caroling in the neighborhood with the entire family, Jim Bob and Michelle enjoy the chaos and thrills of celebrating the season together.

 Elsa Kok Colopy is a full-time speaker and the author of Pure Love, Pure Life.

Daddy's Favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Servings: 2 pies

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 can (29-ounce) Libby's Solid Pack Pumpkin
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 13-ounce cans evaporated milk or 3¼ cups half-and-half
2 9-inch unbaked homemade pie shells with high fluted edge*

Preheat oven to 425° F. 
Combine filling ingredients in order given; divide evenly into pie shells. Bake 15 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 350° F and bake an additional 45 minutes or until knife inserted near center of each pie comes out clean. 
Cool; garnish, if desired, with whipped topping.

*If regular 9-inch frozen pie shells are substituted, recipe fills 4 shells (bake in 2 batches). 
Preheat cookie sheet while preheating oven to 375° F.
Slightly thaw pie shells while combining other ingredients. 
Bake 2 pies on cookie sheet 45 minutes or until pie tests done as directed above. Repeat with remaining two pies.

*If deep-dish 9-inch frozen pie shells are substituted, recipe fills 2 shells. 
Preheat cookie sheet while preheating oven to 375° F.
Let shells thaw 20 minutes and then re-crimp edge to stand ½" above rim. 
Bake 70 minutes or until pies test done as noted above.
For one pie, follow above recipe but divide all ingredients in half. (Half of one 29-ounce can measures 1½ cups.)
Mix and bake as suggested. 

Used with permission of the Duggar family.

This article first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2012 by Elsa Kok Colopy. Used by permission.

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