THERE'S a new Christmas spirit in the air. It smells of eucalypt, not fir tree; and of fresh home-grown vegetables rather than steaming hot turkey.
Australians are rethinking Christmas - and its apogee, Christmas dinner - in an effort to make it less complicated, less expensive, and less guilt-inducing. As a result, we're witnessing a back-to-basics trend that could put over-packaged, over-wrought Christmas gifts and the groaning Christmas table on the endangered species lists.
Amanda Talbot, the author of Rethinking the Way You Live thinks it is a natural response to the huge global changes affecting our lives. "We are going back to what nurtures, protects and makes us feel safe," she says.
With Sydney recently named the most expensive city in the world, she says, people are having to be a lot more inventive in how to produce a happy Christmas within their means.
"More of us want to cook from scratch, using quality ingredients," she says. "Celebrity chefs, governments and campaigners are encouraging this trend, not only for a healthy lifestyle but to cut down on food waste."
Top tips from the experts this year include avoiding excess packaging, buying from local sources, swapping gifts; editing the Christmas menu, replacing some of the heavier meats for more plants, vegetables, grains and fish; and making sure there are alternatives to alcohol. Other hints include bartering gift for gift, collaborating on family presents, making things to give, baking shortbreads and fruit cakes instead of buying them, and regifting last year's presents.
For those looking to reduce the guilt and remorse of the traditional seasonal over-indulgence, the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross is offering the chance to ''donate a plate'' on behalf of a loved one. Instead of the latest electronic gadget, they receive a small plate bearing the message that $50 has gone to help the Wayside Chapel put on a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings for 600 marginalised and vulnerable members of the community.
Kate Walsh returned to Sydney from Brooklyn, where she was the communications director of Slow Food Brooklyn, to establish the Real Food pop-up shop on Oxford Street this Christmas, sourcing only locally produced food from small growers and producers.
"People are really craving a connection back to real food," she says. "They're tired of living with the corporate control of our food supply, and they want to know the stories behind the food they eat."
Stocks of Urban Beehive honey from Marrickville and Bondi Beach Shortbread sold out on the first day of trading.
Just in time for the Christmas leftovers, Sydney food rescue organisation OzHarvest has launched its first cookbook, with the country's top chefs repurposing unwanted and leftover food into new dishes that are to be enjoyed in their own right. "Everybody wants to eat well and not feel wasteful. They see the book as a great way of cooking up a storm after the feast, and creatively using their leftovers," says the OzHarvest founder, Ronni Kahn.
As part of a wider cultural shift, people are placing more of a value on things they have grown, than things they have bought. Andrew Valder, founder of community-based marketplace The Garage Sale Trail, is giving a big bouquet of home-grown kale, spinach, rainbow chard, parsley and basil to his uncle for Christmas. "He was a big influence showing us kids how to garden all those years ago, so now it's gone full circle," he says. "There's something quite special about giving a present that's fresh and healthy and that comes from your own garden or somewhere nearby."