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December 24, 2013

Expatriates try to adapt elements of home for Christmas

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Icelanders like to roast or grill their ptarmigan or, sometimes, simmer the quail-size bird in a creamy roux. When they can get it, that is.

"It's not easy to find," said Jonsson, who works at the World Bank. "You have to know a guy who knows a guy. It helps to have diplomatic status."

Some years, when no one has slipped a few birds into the diplomatic pouch and online suppliers are too expensive, Jonsson has made do with other game meat.

Such as reindeer, which is another head-scratcher for local butchers. He doesn't even ask for whale meat.

"In an emergency, I have used venison," Jonsson said. "I'd like to try bison."

This year, he's in luck, with several pounds of bird in his Bethesda, Md. freezer (the bounty of a fall visit to Reykjavik). That leaves him and his wife free to organize the small presents their 8-year-old son expects on each of the 13 nights he puts his shoe on the windowsill of his Bethesda bedroom.

It's an ancient Icelandic custom that mischievous jolasveinar, or yule lads, will leave a trinket in the shoe of a nice child (or a potato for a naughty one). A few of the 13 Santa-like characters also made an appearance at the Jolaball, an annual Christmas fete hosted by the Icelandic Association of Washington that rocked Bethesda's Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Saturday.

"It's important to us to maintain our national idiosyncrasies," Jonsson said. "It's very easy in Washington to do that. The whole world is here."

For idiosyncratic holiday traditions, it's hard to beat the Catalan-born residents who bring out a little crouching shepherd, called a caganer, for their Washington manger scenes. The traditional carved or ceramic figurines, sold in the markets outside the Barcelona Cathedral, are shown doing something a Crate & Barrel ornament never would: defecating.

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