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December 23, 2013

Expatriates try to adapt elements of home for Christmas

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"You can't get those anywhere around here," said Mar Tarres of Herndon, Va., who works for an international telecommunication company in Washington. (There is one online vendor, but the website might not be safe for work.) "I stock up on those when I'm in Spain."

Tarres helped organize the annual Christmas celebration of Washington area Catalonians this month in Rockville. Several dozen families gathered in a party room for another holiday ritual: children whacking the gifts out of a caga tio, the Catalan pooping log.

"This is very different," Tarres said. "We come from a very traditional Catholic country, but we do have a lot of these pagan traditions. They are very dear to us."

The caga tio is a hollowed log, sometimes real and sometimes papier-mache, with a happy face painted on one end. Grown-ups "feed" the log small packages before the ceremony, and then the kids descend with glee, pounding it until the gifts are, uh, delivered from the other end.

For the accompanying Christmas feast, many families order Spanish ham and bonbons from La Tienda, an online vendor based in Williamsburg, Va. But many will make a pilgrimage to Rodman's, the pharmacy-turned-gourmet grocery in the District of Columbia's Friendship Heights area that has become holiday central for expat communities in the Washington region.

At this time of year, the Rodman's parking lot is crammed with diplomatic license plates, its aisles are a babble of languages and the shelves are crowded with seasonal specialties from many a time zone: haggis from Scotland, Kipling mincemeat pies from Britain, Sachertorte from Vienna, Brazilian panettone, Spanish turron.

"People love to come and find these old friends from home, especially at this time of year," said Roy Rodman, who begins placing his overseas orders six months in advance. "Our sales double."

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