National Day – Origins and Memories

in Features

Sir Joe Bossano who was Chief Minister in 1992 travelled to the United Nations forum in New York to advocate for the right to self determination for the people of Gibraltar to decide their own future. It is against that backdrop that the idea of our ‘National Day’ was born. September 10th commemorates the first referendum held here, when the people of Gibraltar in 1967 voted overwhelmingly to remain British. In September 1992 at the Piazza, John Mackintosh Square, the first National Day was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that landmark referendum. I was there and the overriding memory of that first rally is the emotion I felt then as in subsequent years when those balloons went up to tell the world who we are. 

No one at the time thought that we needed a National Day in order to celebrate our unique status of British birthright. A Mediterranean people who had endured countless sieges were about to be emancipated by acquiring their own voice and demanding the right to their homeland, which was and still is under threat as the historical Spanish claim on the sovereignty of the Rock gathered momentum.  In the new dawn of a Gibraltar outside of the EU, the Spanish claim is still a potential threat to our future prosperity and well being. It is right that we have to continue to uphold those values that make us who we are and we still have a duty to stand up and be counted as we proudly wear our Red and Whites on our National day.

Joe Bossano is the father of our National Day celebrations as he is also the father of our parliament. It was he who obviously thought that we should celebrate our being ‘LLanito and British’ in equal measure and that the message needed to be shouted from our rooftops, so together with the ‘Self Determination for Gibraltar Group’ the Gibraltar Government fostered the consolidation of a festive political rally which has grown exponentially over the years and is now firmly established as our red and white day as well as our red white and blue day. 

This year the same as last year due to the ongoing pandemic, the celebrations will again be somewhat muted with the absence of the traditional Casemates political rally and associated entertainment programme which starts early in the morning and ends with the Rock concert in the early hours. However the growing tradition of family BBQs on the beach will surely fill the void left by these crowd led events.  I remember that from many years ago people would throng onto Main Street from early in the morning and await the parade that used to march all the way down from the cable car station at Alameda Grand Parade where the children’s National Day fancy dress parade and prize giving had already taken place.

Whole families many with pets festooned in our national colours, would have already secured tables al fresco for English breakfast and await the parade, the passing of which was the queue to up sticks and follow them down to Casemates Square and stand shoulder to shoulder by the thousands to await the start of the political rally at 12.30pm. The rousing speeches by visiting  UK politicians and our own chief ministers would then give way to the release of the 30,000 balloons (alas no more) to the strains of our own national anthem and the adopted ‘Llanito’ anthem by Pepe Roman ‘Llevame Donde Naci! The thunder of fireworks and confetti bombs was the backdrop to crowd hugs and kisses, when thousands of emotionally happy compatriots struggled with ‘frogs in their throats’ and happy tears as they tried to out-sing each other in the colourful cacophony that is now firmly established in the DNA of National Days to remember. 

For that unique invention of ‘our own day to celebrate ourselves’ we owe a debt of gratitude to Sir Joe Bossano and to the chief ministers who have followed him into the spotlight to make us feel very good about ourselves as a very small nation with high aspirations of staying Red, WHITE and FREE. Long may it be so and my best wishes that you may all have a happy and peaceful National Day 2021.   

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