It’s true we have Christmas, Easter, Calentita and any number of communal celebrations we participate in and enjoy, but its National Day that brings the whole of the community together in a big, big way!
Red and white is the order of the day on the 10th of September. At Casemates and in Main Street it’s a sea of cherry, crimson or even scarlet (it’s all red) and white – whiter than the proverbial ghost we often refer to when someone’s had a fright. Yes, you’ve got it, RED and WHITE everywhere. Even at the beaches, you now have to get up close to see if there’s sand under the two-tone blanket. In a way, it could be described as Gibraltar’s continued emancipation as more and more red-and-white-castle-and-key flags appear!
It’s 1992 and Gibraltar’s Chief Minister at the time, Joe Bossano, popped along to the United Nations to argue for the right to self-determination. That got the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group going. That same year, the SDGG generated the support of the community by holding our first National Day at the Piazza (John Mackintosh Square) a few months later on the 10th September 1992: the date chosen commemorated Gibraltar’s first Sovereignty referendum of 1967. The populace overwhelmingly voted to `remain’ – quite the word these days – under British sovereignty and there has since been another unsuccessful attempt on co-sovereignty with Spain. The 10th of September also coincides with the Rock’s Legislative Council becoming representative and responsible for its internal affairs way back in 1964, and things have moved on since. Gibraltar had actually been calling for self-determination since 1963 at the UN.
So the 10th of September became a holiday and John Mackintosh Square proved to be far too small as the event became more and more popular. Next stop was Casemates Square and later, as it became even bigger, moved to the Naval Ground in 1999, where the Mid Town development now stands. Gibraltar meanwhile was pressing for de-colonisation as per the UN Charter to eradicate colonialism by the year 2000: to this day, we remain as is! Joint sovereignty with Spain was then proposed for the Rock and our sense of national identity deepened, reinforced and promoted annually at our ever popular September the 10th National Day.
As administrations change, as dictated by democratic wishes, formats for the event changed from one government to another. There have been sometimes more, or fewer, political rallies over time. They’ve been quieter in terms of political input in recent times having fewer invited UK politicians delivering shorter speeches. During the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD’s) reign, the political bits were done away with making it more of a civic celebration leaving politics for all the other days of the year during which, you might say, we live and breath it! Celebrations then returned to John Mackintosh Square with the Mayor of Gibraltar running the main event as opposed to any politician. By this time the SDGG was not organising the special day as it was handed over to the incumbent GSD Government. The Self Determination for Gibraltar Group took umbrage and returned to Casemates Square organising a political rally inviting all opposition parties – GSLP, the Liberal Party and the Progressive Democratic Party – to give short speeches as well as that given by the leader of the SDGG who were the organisers. The affair lasted just 30 or 40 minutes and was not to overlap with the celebrations at John Mackintosh Square so as to allow everyone to attend and enjoy both. The rally was deemed a success. By then, in 2008, Britain had recognised Gibraltar’s right to self-determination as declared in our new constitution which is read by the Mayor, outside the City Hall on National Day. And we’ve also had the City of Gibraltar Flag flying over the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on September 10th.
Nowadays, the 30,000 balloons (representing Gib’s population), are no longer released in keeping with wild and marine life protection, but the celebrations continue in full swing with the children’s fancy dress outside the Gibraltar Parliament building, which is always well attended with many innovative ideas coming to the fore, starting the day. In John Mackintosh Square, you’ll find food and drink stalls doing their bit to help along the celebrations and a Fun Day for the children with bouncy castles and other joy rides are set up, either there in the square or by then moving down to Casemates Square where things are revving-up, including the weather getting hotter and stuffier. Dance groups, and singers perform on either side of the political speeches which the attendees enjoy with all the pro Gibraltar references made by the visiting UK politicians, going down a bomb. The 35 minute rally ends with the Chief Minister giving his speech followed by the release of red and white confetti which apparently is harmless – for now, as we all sing the Gibraltar Anthem then, or at some other juncture. Meanwhile, a Rock concert usually follows in the evening after the 30 minute firework display from the Detached Mole and that’s the end… for some. No doubt celebrations continue somewhere on the Rock – at home or at some other venue, because fun and games, food and drink and happy times are not restricted to Casemates and Main Street. Apart from the beaches where much activity goes on and on till late in the evening, BBQs and other food combinations are prepared in many homes, patios and terraces everywhere. Governor’s Parade (by the O’Callaghan Hotel) comes to mind as another fun place to be. The Rock on the Rock Club tends to be rocking all evening round the back, at the end of Town Range. `Verbenas’ – food, drink and dancing at a more sedate pace – tend to be held for the not so young where you’re bound to hear `Llevame Donde Naci’ being sung by all present.
So whatever your plans are for this auspicious event, at the end of the day there’s no doubt you will have noted that on National Day, Gibraltar has celebrated a highly enjoyable occasion. At the time of writing you see, National Day has not quite arrived, it’s just shy of three weeks away, so if you read this by the time it’s over… I’m sure it’s been a good one!