Despite all the stories, songs and TV specials that surround it, Christmas isn't a magical time for everyone.
For some, the miracle never comes. The holiday brings new problems and exacerbates everyday old ones of finances, relationships and mental health.
This year, the Mercury is hosting festive photo shoots in our Market Street studio as a fundraiser for one of the local organisations that will do a lot of the heavy lifting this Christmas: the Illawarra Women's Health Centre.
Photo sessions were sold out within hours of releasing time spots and $2000 has been raised for the organisation.
Sally Stevenson, executive director of the Illawarra Women's Health Centre, said donations were particularly important to the service at this time of year.
"We know that over Christmas but also the summer holidays, domestic and family violence becomes more acute and more frequent, because it's a time that for many people is very, very stressful," she said.
"We know that there's a lot of anxiety, a lot of threatening behaviour, a lot of antagonistic and abusive behaviour when it comes to Christmas itself because of the custody of children.
"There's financial pressure that comes to bear and also, over summer, a lot of alcohol consumption and all that contributes to a really heightened environment where violence and abuse accelerate. Being able to support women during this time is really important."
The photo sessions, shot by Mercury photographers against a custom-made metallic backdrop, cost $55 with families emailed every frame shot during sessions.
"The support the Mercury is giving is critical because it allows women to have some flexibility and some resources to create a good Christmas for their family, to support their children over the holidays and to be able to alleviate some of the financial pressures that come to bear at Christmas," Ms Stevenson said.
"Because it is a really financially stressful time, particularly during the cost of living crisis, this kind of support really empowers women to be able to take their children out to the beach and buy ice creams, it allows them to buy the presents that they want to buy their children, it supports them to buy a really nice Christmas lunch which they otherwise might not have been able to do.
"All of these things can have a major impact on the life of a woman who's experiencing financial stress, loneliness or violence and abuse.
"It's also nice for women to know that people care about them. Christmas can be a very lonely time. That the Mercury is doing these things to support them, that there are services like ours to support them lifts morale and lifts spirits."
- Pictures by Robert Peet
- Set design by Angela Thompson, Kate McIlwain and Tareyn Varley