All Esessien Offiong wants for Christmas — or at least for his Nigerian Christmas stew — is antelope. But the stores in his Laurel, Md., neighborhood don't carry African game, so Offiong and his family will do what they do every year: Wing it.

“We have learned that goat meat is a pretty good substitute for antelope,” Offiong, a federal pension agency staffer, said with a Santa-worthy laugh. “You have to improvise when you are far from home, but we find ways to have a very Nigerian Christmas.”

Such are the holidays in Washington, where one in five residents are foreign born and immigrants and expats improvise, import and adapt Christmas traditions from all over the world. Even in the age of Internet shopping, decking the halls can be an effort if you want to deck them with straw “yule goats” (Swedes), defecating manger shepherds (Catalonians) or bamboo-and-tissue parol stars (Filipinos).

For Icelander Fridrik Jonsson, the annual ingredient hunt begins with a search for rock ptarmigan, a game bird more common to the mountains of the Arctic than the aisles of a Safeway.

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.

“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 mischie