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In the face of crisis, Gibraltar remains resilient and stoic

By the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel
Many of us put up our Christmas trees some weeks ago, as we did in the Convent.

They bring colour, light and just a little magic to every home, and are every child’s dream.

This being my first Christmas in Gibraltar, I have also discovered the power of Elves, just like my own – Crimble, how they arrive on December 1st, can be very naughty, but highlight to everyone that Santa is very busy, making everything ready so that we can all enjoy the gifts that we dream of on Christmas Day.

Some may also have followed the tradition of putting wreaths on their doors. The circle of the wreath in Christian tradition symbolises the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ.
The Wreath is a symbol of hope in the future – looking forward with anticipation. That is indeed the essence of the Christmas message with the birth of Jesus – hope and transformation.

The excitement of Christmas and the Festive Season almost compels us therefore to look forward, preparing for the big day, among our dearest and nearest, generally making sure that, as we end the year, we will do so on happy as well as hopeful terms.

There is no doubt that, this year in particular, we need to embrace all the cheer we can muster as, for all of us, and some in particular, it has been a horrible year.

The Pandemic has done its best to force us apart; to make us live in a way that has been completely alien and for some in Gibraltar it has meant the sadness of saying farewell to loved ones.

Many have been lonely throughout this period, others have seen businesses that have flourished for years struggling to cope or even having to close. The enhanced restrictions,
which we all now have to live by, are adding further to everyone’s unease – no matter how much we know why they must be.

As we reflect on the past, however, we should do so with a degree of pride. The resilience and stoicism that Gibraltarians have shown in the face of this crisis is legendary. We have, until only recently, managed to keep this virus under a good degree of control. It is tragic that there has been an upturn in the numbers affected, so close to the Christmas period.

Our concern for our families, especially those of more mature years, now encourages us to be even more aware of their wellbeing than we might otherwise be. Self-restraint has been and continues to be the order of the day.

Our Health and other public services have demonstrated beyond measure their ability to deal with such a shock to our livelihoods that none of us could have imagined.

Our links with the United Kingdom have remained open so far, and Gibraltar continues to receive praise from the shipping industry, so badly affected by the virus, for continuing to allow seafarers to pass through Gibraltar, to and from their ships.

In the last six months, I have enjoyed the privilege of visiting many charities and support groups. Paid staff and volunteers alike have brought comfort to those in distress, helping deliver food during the harsh period of the lockdown, or simply presenting a friendly face.

Our Ambulance crews of the Health Authority or St John have continued to work day and night to transport the sick or injured to hospital, here or in Spain.

I have seen the wonderful ways in which schools and clubs and cultural organisations devised new ways of teaching and bringing people together. In our churches and other places of worship, dignified improvisation has worked well, allowing so many to continue practising their religion.

Our fear of the virus gave way in relatively short order to faith in our support services, and in the science and resourcefulness that will shortly bring us a vaccine.

What could so easily have been a catastrophe was transformed into a symbol of the ingenuity and resilience of the human race. And although we are not nearly out of the woods yet, we can begin to look forward with a degree of anticipation for the arrival of a vaccine that should defeat this common foe. As a friend said to me recently, this virus’ time is nearly up.

Our lives this year have also been troubled further as we have all tried to prepare for our new life outside the European Union, but still very much part of the European Family.

Businesses and individuals have all worked tirelessly, individually and collectively, to ensure that the new arrangements will work as well as they can for Gibraltar. Our Government has been painstaking in its negotiations to ensure a solution that will protect Gibraltar’s
sovereignty while maintaining the circumstances that allow freedom of movement and business success.

There will be significant challenges ahead but if I have learnt one thing about Gibraltar it is that Gibraltarians have a self-confidence and self-belief that, together with steely determination, will ensure success, in any endeavour.

Since my arrival on The Rock over six months ago, I have been welcomed into your homes and offices in a way I could never have imagined would be the case. And through a very difficult period for us all I have learnt so much about the character of this place and in particular its sense of community.

As I am fond of telling anyone, Gibraltarians have wide smiles and big hearts; and, whatever the future may hold, I know that Gibraltar will flourish, always looking forward, rarely back. Christmas is that time of year when, whatever faith we embrace, and whether separated or together, we can enjoy the love of our families and our friends, even if that may be in rather different ways this year than we would wish. It is a time for a good degree of hope and excitement as we shed the past and embark on the future. It is a time for putting aside the concerns of the day, even if only for a while, and being grateful for what we have and excited about what we hope for. And it is a time to be grateful to those who are working throughout the Festive period, our doctors and nurses and all those others delivering essential public services, so that we can enjoy our Christmas time.

I know that this will be a Christmas like none other before, and my heart goes out to those separated from their loved ones. May I, however, extend to you all my very personal good wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and, above all, a healthy New Year.