A VERY BUSY DAY!
Tuesday December 3rd, the date marking the beginning of Christmas in Europe, was divided into several stages: the morning was the time for setting up every delegations’ allocated exhibition stand, with its decorations and various accessories (see Stands section). Then at 13.00, after a bus transfer, all the participants, most of them in national dress, gathered at the entrance to Riga’s Lutheran Protestant cathedral, where the flags formed a guard of honour; they then formed a procession which made its way into the cathedral chancel, to the strains of solemn, powerful organ music.
Pastor Elijs Godins addressed his attentive congregation, touching on the time of Advent and its deep meaning; he also expressed the pleasure felt by the city of Riga at hosting within its walls this event linked to Christmas and with such an international character. Later on, from the pulpit, he focussed on the festival of Christmas and its values of peace.
A little later a student from the hotel school, Benita Beatrise Ozola, passed on to the congregation the best wishes of the Riga school for a fine week of Christmastide meetings and exchanges. Her address culminated in the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of that universal Christmas carol, ‘Silent night, holy night’ in which she was joined by the whole congregation.
There was a complete change of register when the delegations left the cathedral. They mustered for the inaugural parade to strains of Dixieland played by four musicians from the Pustonis ensemble, and headed off through the streets of the old town towards the Freedom Memorial, watched by curious and/or amazed passers-by delighted to see this handsome gathering of young people processing beneath the fluttering flags and affirming the international and joyful character of Christmas in Europe.
At the foot of the memorial stone two students placed a beautiful wreath of flowers in an essential symbolic gesture which was followed by a minute’s silence. After this solemn moment the procession headed for the nearby park, where this time a folk group was responsible for ‘warming up’ the participants with a packed programme of appropriate dance and music. They returned to the school in orderly fashion, by bus as for the outward journey.
A little later, after nightfall, came the inauguration ceremony itself of this Christmas in Europe, on the school steps. Like the ceremonies before it, this inauguration was a solemn affair, with the welcome address from School Director Silva Ozolina to those present, with the Latvian and European anthems, with the performance of the Pustonis choir and the switching on of the Christmas tree lights. What was missing was the cutting of the ribbon to mark the opening of the exhibition, a task soon carried out with much mirth and in unison by Silva Ozolina, Remco Koerts and Christiane Keller (aka Christmas Chris, founder of Christmas in Europe). A firework display was set off as the astonished gathering looked on, while a drone – another innovation! – filmed the proceedings. Before moving on to the final act of this memorable day, the participants were treated to an excellent soup by way of putting new heart into all those whose body temperatures had fallen in the course of this outdoor inauguration!
THE EXHIBITION IS OPEN
The final episode took place according to plan in the sports hall: first came the ‘show’ part of the event in the form of dance and song performed by students from the school. Then the talented presenter Kristaps Tälberg took great pleasure in handing the microphone to various speakers inn turn, namely: AEHT President Remco Koerts, Christiane Keller aka Christmas Chris, Agra Berzina from the National Education and Elita Zondaka from the Education Development Agency. In their speeches they emphasised the importance of the event and its role in facilitating meetings and exchanges; and they warmly thanked Silva Ozolina together with her teams and her students for their commitment to organising Christmas in Europe in Riga.
Then came the traditional visit of all of the stands; it was informal, but there was a definite interest in what the Riga School’s guests had brought here with them from home in their luggage!