An event cannot begin until it is officially opened; the official opening ceremony took place according to plan on December 3rd at 15.00 when the participants, most of them in national costume, gathered together before setting off, each delegation behind its flag, from the Amphitheatro to the nearby Pavilhao do Mar. The children’s choir of the São Miguel Regional Music Conservatoire gave a spirited rendering of the European anthem as the delegations entered the hall.
Filipe Rocha, in his role as master of ceremonies and event organiser, made a short speech to the large audience, which included Maria Lina Mendes (Regional Secretary for Education and Training), Rui Bettencourt (Regional Director for Employment and Vocational Training), Bruno Pacheco (Director for Youth) and Gavin Sandwall (United States Consul). ‘I am delighted to welcome you here to Ponta Delgada and I thank you for coming here for Christmas in Europe, sometimes travelling a very long way. I wish you all a warm welcome, and I thank the authorities and the sponsors for their support in organising this event’, said Filipe with warmth and simplicity.
Christiane Keller, the founder of Christmas in Europe which was held for the first time in her native town of Kaysersberg in Alsace (France), spoke in glowing terms of this exciting adventure which takes place very year, and this year for the 19th time in a row, emphasising that ‘we are rich through our differences’.
AEHT President Klaus Enengl, in a similar vein to the previous evening, highlighted the fact that Christmas in Europe ‘brings the AEHT family together to share in the values of Christmas. I should like to share with you this spirit which is of such importance’, he concluded. Maria Lina Mendes, speaking on behalf of the governor of São Miguel, was obviously delighted with the convivial atmosphere, and said how pleased the people of the Azores, and in particular of São Miguel, were to welcome the delegations who had come from the continent.
Then it was time for the VIPs to visit every one of the exhibition stands, to hear the appropriate explanations and to taste the culinary specialities of these eleven countries which had come together in Ponta Delgada. It was obvious that the VIPs were enchanted by this fine range of fare, and Maria Lina Mendes, accompanied by Klaus Enengl and Filipe Rocha, was clearly both delighted and fascinated by what she saw.
In the afternoon it was the turn of around 200 children from the Ponta Delgada’s nursery schools to visit the exhibition, creating a pleasant hubbub which their teachers, delighted with this European escape from routine, had trouble in containing. Could it be that one day these children will be the standard-bearers of the European ideal? Perhaps they will.