KENNEBUNK — All are invited to spend the evening of the year’s shortest day at the Winter Solstice Celebration of the First Parish UU Church in Kennebunk at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 21.

There’ll be singing, dancing, a performance by the Lost Arrow Consort Recorder Quartet, sea shanties, the Irish low pipe, general pageantry and a special appearance by La Befana.

The event is free and open to the public. All those who attend are asked to bring one item of nonperishable food for the York County Shelter Programs’ Food Pantry in Alfred, as well as finger food for sharing. Last year’s solstice celebration collected more than 300 pounds of food.

“We’d like to top that this year,” said Sheila Littlefield of the First Parish Women for All Seasons, the event sponsor.

La Befana is at the heart of the Italian Christmas season tradition, an old “witch” who arrives on a broom and brings stockings to children with gifts for the “nice” and coal for the “naughty.” Scholars say La Befana predates Christianity. She was originally a goddess of ancestral spirits, forests and the passage of time. To this day, Italians celebrate the arrival of La Befana ”“ sometimes via a zip line strung over the town’s main street ”“ as she tosses candy and gifts to the children below.

In pre-Christian times, the New Year was celebrated at the Winter Solstice. It was considered a time to get rid of old, negative baggage and bring in the good feelings of the New Year.

“La Befana reflects on the old year, sweeps it out with her broom and then tosses candy around,” Littlefield said.

FPUU’s minister, the Rev. Lara Campbell, will join in the festivities. For this year’s celebration, she has created a Solstice stole.

“These traditions celebrate the sacred circle of life, and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. At winter solstice, we celebrate the return of longer days and the growing intensity of the light,” Rev. Campbell said. “It is about finding light and hope in a time of cold and darkness.”

After the celebration in the sanctuary, participants will adjourn to the parish hall for food, dancing, drumming and socializing.

For more information, call 985-3700.

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