To celebrate the winter solstice and to shine a light in this darkest of days, local public school students and staff at the Waterville Public Library created luminaries with free art kits — 1,600 of them — provided by Waterville Creates!.

“We really wanted it to be something that would connect people to each other,” Serena Sanborn, education and outreach coordinator for Waterville Creates!, said during a phone interview Monday. 

From 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, those who created luminaries were encouraged to display them outside of their homes and businesses.

“The idea is for people to put them out, and hopefully we’ll get to see these pretty lights around Waterville,” Sanborn said.

The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, a phenomenon caused by the tilt of the Earth away from the sun. The sun doesn’t rise on the Arctic, nor does it set on the Antarctic.

According to the organization’s website, many places around the world celebrate the solstice with festivities that include lights.

“Creating luminaries around the solstice is a tradition that dates back thousands of years,” according to the Waterville Creates! website.

Since April, the nonprofit organization has been distributing more than 100 free art kits at the Alfond Youth and Community Center and the Downtown Waterville Farmers Market on a monthly basis.

For the luminary project, the organization created 1,600 kits to ensure that every student enrolled in Waterville Public Schools could participate.

“We decided, because of the holidays, we would take on making one for every student in the public schools,” Sanborn said. “So that’s 1,600 kids.”

The kits were delivered to the schools Thursday. They included simple materials: two paper bags, two battery-operated tea lights, a pencil, a black marker, a hole punch, a pencil sharpener and a stencil. Scissors and imagination were not included.

Lisa Wheeler, an art teacher at the Albert Hall School, said some teachers talked the project up in school.

“We distributed the kits and they all went home with the kids, but we did a lot of talking it up at school,” Wheeler said. “It was in our December newsletter the kids learned about it … and some of the classroom teachers talked about the meaning of the winter solstice and the tradition of luminaries. So the kids got not only their hands on the project, but they got some supporting information too. So the kids were really excited when the kits came because we had talked it up so much.”

When staff at the Waterville Public Library heard about the project, they decided to participate.

“We wanted to amplify the effort because we thought it was so awesome,” Library Director Tammy Rabideau said. “We pulled the materials together on Friday and a bunch of us made some over the weekend.”

Rabideau said that she reached out to Sanborn over the weekend to thank her for organizing the project.

“I think that even if the luminaries never got deployed, the little process of healing that happened just within my own family that I didn’t anticipate while we sat around the table creating these, it was just a beautiful thing,” Rabideau said.

According to Sanborn, that was the goal of the project.

“I’m super happy that people are getting a little moment of peace and creation for this holiday,” Sanborn said. “I think this time has been so hard for people, and we’re hoping this brings a moment of lightness.”

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