Whether it's a special kind of cookie or the time for opening presents, most people celebrate Christmas according to the traditions of their national and cultural roots.
Cultures from three continents will meld at 4 p.m. tomorrow in Augustana Lutheran Church's annual St. Lucia Festival. A Tanzanian-born girl will wear the traditional crown of lighted candles in memory of a fourth-century Sicilian martyr who was adopted by the people of Sweden.
St. Lucia, whose name means light, has been incorporated into Swedish tradition as the symbol of charity and light in the darkness of midwinter. In Sweden on St. Lucia's day, the eldest daughter of the family traditionally rises early, dons a white robe with a red sash and, balancing a crown of lighted candles on her head, wakes up the rest of the family with coffee and special saffron-flavored buns.
The tradition was transplanted here in the Lutheran congregation of Augustana whose members now include descendants of Swedish immigrants and black Americans in equal numbers.
At Augustana, located at New Hampshire Avenue and V Street NW, the Lucia tradition has been turned into an annual pageant for the congregation and community. It begins with a service of Advent lessons and carols, led by the Augustana choir.
Then, in the near-darkened church, the Lucia queen, preceded by candle-bearing attendants, enters the sanctuary to the strains of the familiar Italian folk song, "Santa Lucia" -- sung in Swedish. A senior member of the congregation, in Swedish costume, retells the legend of St. Lucia. Then the queen and her attendants serve the distinctively shaped buns, known as Lucy cats, to all present.
Jocelyn Mushala, 17, this year's Lucia queen, came to this country from Tanzania with her parents and seven brothers and sisters when she was 2 years old. They were strongly committed Lutherans when they came here. In her native East African land, Lutheranism is almost as indigenous as it is in Sweden. Planted by Lutheran missionaries from the United States and Europe, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, with 874,000 members, is the second largest Christian communion after Roman Catholicism.
Yoasi Mushala, Jocelyn's father, served as a lay preacher in the church in Tanzania before coming here to study, and later to teach, philosophy at Howard University. He also worked as a Swahili language broadcaster for the Voice of America.
Mushala was killed in July during a holdup in the Kenyon Grill, a Georgia Avenue restaurant, of which he was part owner.
Jocelyn, who thinks she would like to become a nurse "because nurses pay more attention to patients than doctors do," is the third of the four Mushala daughters to serve as Lucia queen at Augustana.
Augustana Church, originally called St. Erik's, was founded in 1918 by Swedish immigrants who settled here. It continues many of the Swedish traditions, although only five Swedish language services are held annually, including one on Christmas morning.
The congregation now is "just about fifty-fifty" black and white, said Pastor Wilbert S. Miller. The first black families joined the church in the 1950s, Miller said, when the church launched an evangelism project aimed at residents within a one-mile radius of its location.
Miller said Augustana members who have migrated to the suburbs, black and white, have kept a strong bond with the church and that many return regularly for Sunday services.
Jocelyn Mushala is more familiar with the Swedish-tinged Christmas traditions of Augustana than those of her native land. She is active in the church's youth group, she said, and has taken part in the Lucia pageant for the past four years.
She also has the benefit of the experiences of two older sisters who have worn the lighted-candle crown in years past.
And their advice to her?
"Not to be scared and just to walk straight so the candles won't fall," she said.