The holiday season will officially arrive in downtown Westport late Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 3, with the lighting of a Christmas tree on the Town Hall lawn, Santa's arrival and a free community party with food an entertainment.

The tree lighting is scheduled at 5 p.m. and will include a performance by the Staples High School vocal group the Orphenians, plus free hot chocolate courtesy of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Historical Society.

Myrtle Avenue in front of Town Hall will be closed during the tree-lighting ceremony, the merchants association said in a news release.

At 5:30 p.m., festivities will move around the corner to Christ & Holy Trinity Church's Branson Hall, where Santa is slated to arrive on a fire truck to lead festivities.

Sponsored by the merchants group, the party at the hall, 75 Church Lane, will include soup, chili, pizza and beverages, plus music, carolers, ice-sculpture demonstrations and a blazing fire pit, according to the release.

Representatives of local nonprofts will be on hand to explain their missions and the services they provide. During the season of giving, donations to those groups are an alternative to tradition gift-giving, the merchants association said.

Each group will display a wish list of items priced from several dollars to several hundred dollars that would directly benefit its programs.

The merchants association said it would provide downtown holiday entertainment during the weekends of Dec. 13-14 and Dec. 20-21, including strolling carollers and free horse-drawn carriage rides. Hot cocoa and cider sales downtown will benefit local youth organizations.