Party like it's 1992 on Gibraltar National Day
It’s a rip-roaring red-and-white street party with generous portions of patriotic fervour and gallons of goodwill. No one celebrates their National Day with greater gusto than the Gibraltarians. Visitors shopping in Main Street may wonder why they’re seeing red and white in every window but it’s not a new fashion craze. Traders in Gibraltar enter into the National Day spirit by vying to produce the most patriotic display. The kids too.They start practicing their song and dance routines weeks beforehand for their 15-minutes of fame on the National Day stage. And everyone and their dog dresses up for the occasion.
Part tub-thumping political rally, part village fete, the party started in 1992 to mark the 25th anniversary of the sovereignty referendum, when all but 44 of the Rock’s 30,000 citizens voted to remain British.
Everyone likes a day off work and the end-of-summer public holiday became an annual fixture which also raises thousands for local charities. But more than that, it’s a one-day licence for the locals to sing their National Anthem to the rooftops and shout their national pride all the way to the Spanish border.
Young or old, everyone flies the flag - London’s Foreign Office too, which hoists Gibraltar’s standard on the Whitehall flagpole on National Day. There are patriots in wheelchairs draped with red-and-white bunting, dapper gents in union jack waistcoats, matronly ladies in colour-coordinated shoes and handbags and teens in T-shirts printed with bolshie slogans: ‘Wake up and smell the coffee. Gibraltar will never be Spanish.’
Hardly anyone drinks coffee, though... Pints of bitter, bottles of stout, Guinness and Magners pear cider are the order of the day. Everyone loves a party be they of Genoese,Portuguese, Maltese or British origin, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu ...
... which they are in melting pot Gibraltar. The Rock is shining proof to the world that immigration can work!
The midday rally is the serious part of the proceedings. Invitations go out to House of Commons MPs, House of Lords peers, representatives from Gibraltar’s 13 fellow British Overseas Territories and politicos from Mallorca and Catalunya who have an axe to grind with Spain over their battle for independence.
Allies from Scotland and Northern Ireland battling Brexit are also out in force. A hefty 96% of Gibraltarians voted to Bremain but if the price of continued EU access means conceding joint sovereignty to Spain, Gibraltar will never pay it.
I was a bit nervous the first time I went ‘undercover’ to experience this exuberant national holiday ‘like a local’. Would I get lynched by the Spanish? There I was, on their side of the border dressed head to toe in red and white like a soldier in uniform caught behind enemy lines. Or lynched by the locals for impersonating a Gibraltarian, brazenly clad in their national colours?
But in Casemates Square (a former military execution ground) where I was sucked into a human vortex, I was perfectly camouflaged – no more likely to be singled out for attention than a grain of sand on Eastern Beach. And anyway, everyone is welcome to join in the fun.
And with teenage discos and foam parties, trad jazz, kids fancy dress, a live rock concert and fireworks to finish, everyone is thoroughly entertained on National Day.
That hot September day, I watched the crowds disperse after the rally, emptying through Casemates Square’s archways in a red-and-white tide like water from a bathtub: the mums, dads, abuelos and push chairs to lunch in one of the bunting-decked pavement cafes; the youth to strike sultry poses in disco bars; the pets to lamp posts to figure out how to cock a leg in their restrictive fancy dress outfits.
There was laughter in the air and courtesy everywhere. National Day is a happy pill!
From my rooftop in Spain later the same night I watched National Day reach its crescendo: hundreds of red and white chrysanthemum-shaped fireworks exploding over the crest of the rock. It was spectacular and strangely humbling.
“They’re more British than the British themselves,” joked my Spanish neighbours, who were watching too. But that’s not true. I’m British, they’re British Gibraltarian. Ask any one of them, it’s a different thing entirely!
📌Casemates Square, Gibraltar and throughout town