Let's have a Christmas free from violence
Nicola Woodward says this happiest time of the year can also be one of the worst.
Our Christchurch Women's Refuge offices now look like Santa's workshop, thanks to the generous people in Canterbury and beyond who have donated dozens of gifts and food parcels for the families we support.
In this respect, Christmas is one of the nicest times of year to work at Christchurch Women's Refuge, because we not only get to pass on these gifts on your behalf, we also have the privilege of seeing how much people in our community care about others, and the joy this brings, especially to children.
This makes a real difference because, just like every other night of the year, this Christmas Eve many children will not go to bed excited about what Santa may bring, but frightened by the prospect of further family violence.
Worst of all, they will feel this in the very place we should all feel safest - home.
Not everyone looks forward to Christmas and the holidays. For some - perhaps more than most of us realise - what should be one of the happiest times of the year is one of the worst.
The pressures that accompany our biggest holiday period too often escalate into higher rates of violence and abuse.
That's why Christchurch Women's Refuge is here 24 hours a day, running our support and information line and providing essential community services. For some, this Christmas may bring a very precious gift - the hope and encouragement to begin the New Year on a path towards a happy and fulfilled family life, free from violence.
We will be here ready to help because family violence doesn't take a holiday when we do.
Last year, between December 2011-and January 2012, almost 550 people called our 24-hour support and information line; 25 women and children needed to move into the shared accommodation of our safe house to escape an immediate threat of further violence; and 85 more women and children received advice, safety planning, advocacy services and access to education programmes.
Behind each of these statistics are real people, resilient people who want to be safe and happy - not too much to ask at Christmas, or at any time of year.
It's important to remember that family violence isn't an inevitable result of growing up in a violent home, of job loss, earthquakes, increased stress or a few too many drinks.
It's a learned behaviour reflecting the false belief that it's OK to use power and control over others to make them do what you want them to.
But because it's learned it can be unlearned, and replaced by new, healthier ways of relating.
While 2012 has been a challenging year for the families we support, women and children have embraced the opportunity to remain at home rather than enter a safe house, thanks to our Shine safe@home service.
We have been inspired by the willingness of men who are perpetrating violence to become engaged in our new ReachOut service in North Canterbury, and we've been further inspired to encourage women and men who have overcome family violence to draw on that achievement to support and inspire others along the same path.
Overcoming family violence is both very possible and something to be very proud of.
So if you or someone you know needs support of any kind because of family violence, we will be here ready to receive your call, even at Christmas.
And if you want to play a part in overcoming family violence beyond Christmas, choose not to condone or tolerate it in your community and encourage and support those affected by it to seek advice and support.
That way, the children receiving the wonderful gifts you have donated through us this year will have a happy Christmas, free from violence, in 2013.
Nicola Woodward is chief executive officer of Christchurch Women's Refuge. The refuge's service is available 24 hours a day on freephone 0800 1 733 843. Support for men by men is also available on 0800 ReachOut.