September in Gibraltar is significant. It revolves around National Day and the associated festivities, as well as about that gradual return to school and working patterns that characterise the slow end of summer. For Gibraltar’s thousands of tourists, this means spending time in a city very much in a festive mood, festooned with bunting and draped in flags in the national colours of red and white with the occasional Union Jack thrown in for good measure.
A colourful, vibrant time of year any year, but there’s a difference in 2017, and that difference is the 50th anniversary commemorations of Gibraltar’s epic Referendum, the event that in itself led directly to the National Day holiday.
On 10th September 1967, Gibraltar held a referendum to decide whether to retain British sovereignty, under which it had been governed since 1704, or whether to choose to be governed by Spain which had been clamouring for sovereignty over the Rock for centuries, and especially since Franco had come to power in the late 1930s. In a decision that was a pivotal moment in Gibraltar’s history, 99% of voters elected to retain British sovereignty: hence the famous phrase that sometimes puzzles our international visitors, “British we are and British we stay. Gibraltar’s Britishness can be seen day to day, the most iconic sights being that of tourists wanting to be photographed alongside red telephone boxes, outside the Main Post Office, or shoulder to shoulder with British “bobbies” with a scorching Mediterranean sky in the background.
So, what can visitors during September expect to find in Gibraltar? A tour around the Rock is especially colourful at this time of year; hot sunshine, breath-taking views over the shimmering blue Straits of Gibraltar, red, white and blue flags, ribbons and bunting decorating public spaces – even a set of steps leading from the Old Town to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve have been painted in the colours of the Gibraltar and British flags. In Main Street, shop owners vie for the coveted title of Best Window Display in a good-natured National Day competition. Meanwhile, for music lovers the month starts in fine voice, with Music Week and the MTV Gibraltar Calling music festival, when a plethora of international music stars play to a packed Victoria Stadium.
There is a tremendous atmosphere of anticipation and excitement in Gibraltar during the National Celebrations and if you happen to be visiting the Rock that week, you may well be swept up in the many events planned – perhaps one of the music concerts, the public street entertainments, the firework display…Gibraltarians are warm, welcoming and friendly, and never more so than in September, when they so openly celebrate their beautiful Rock and wonderful, vibrant culture.
There is something a bit special about September anyway: school starts, but it is still delightfully hot and the beaches continue to tempt; the working routine is steadily returning to normal as families return home from their holidays and here and there a few people whisper that magic word “Christmas.” Of course, late summer holidaymakers and tourists can always pick up an extra special gift at bargain, duty-free prices in one of Gibraltar’s excellent shops after a tour of the Upper Rock and the historic sites. But for Gibraltarians, and especially this 50th Anniversary year, it is National Day, Referendum Day, which makes September so special.