12 Days of Christmas – Ruta Sepetys

Hello to the wonderful Ruta Septys who lives in Nashville, TN USA and is the final memory for this edition of the 12 Days of Christmas. It is always super chatting with Ruta, we don’t get to do that enough and she also serves on the SCBWI board.

Her gorgeous memory of twilight church is a beautiful tradition – but with a firey twist!


Light Through the Night 

Twilight church—one of many Christmas Eve traditions.

Dressed in holiday finery and bundled in wool coats to ward off the Michigan chill, our family would pile into the car for the short drive down the road. The annual evening service concluded with the entire congregation holding a candle and singing Silent Night together in the darkness. During that three-minute carol, amidst hundreds of glistening lights, the breathing of the world seemed to slow, allowing Christmas to gather us all in her arms.

Our family loved the candlelight and, despite warnings, often carried our lighted glass votives to the car. Upon arriving home we then placed the candles on our Lithuanian Kūčios dinner table and let them glow through the long celebration.

This tradition of carrying light through the night continued for many years. In decades past, some unfortunate souls thought it stylish to perm their hair into a nest of Einstein proportion and shellac it with carcinogenic aerosol spray.

I was one such unfortunate soul.

Imagine the scene as my father’s sedan slowly carves its way home from church through the falling snow. My brother and father sit in the front; Mom and girls in the back. I turn to my sister to laugh about an old beau we saw at church, not realizing that my head toss has thrown my Camaro hair directly into the votive I’m clutching. Because my hair is stiffer than a corpse, I feel nothing as the right side of my head ignites.

Dad glances into the rear view mirror. “Is that a police siren flashing?”

“Ruta, your hair is burning!” shrieks my sister.

A bonfire burst of Aqua Net. I was able to snuff the flame before it burned my face and torched the others, but the story (and the accompanying photos from that year) have become family legend.

Let the record show that perhaps Katniss Everdeen was not the original girl on fire.


Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. As the daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her New York Times bestselling and award-winning historical novels are published in over forty countries. She now lives in the hills of Tennessee and can be discovered at her website: www.rutasepetys.com.

votive light

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