Singapore’s independence on August 9, 1965, was not like that of most former colonies. Rather than being granted severance from its two year old union with Malaysia, it was expelled following a series of issues, including two race riots from the previous year. Film footage from that historic day shows a young and tearful Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew addressing the Singaporean people about the separation, and there was uncertainty about the new nation’s survival. However, the country not only survived, it flourished, and since the Republic’s first birthday Singaporeans have celebrated with pride their independence with National Day activities, most notably the National Day Parade (NDP).
The first NDP in 1966 was celebrated at the Pandang and, unlike parades in recent years, this event began at nine in the morning with people arriving as early as 7am. Sitting in a grandstand at City Hall, members of the government, including Prime Minister Lee and President Yusof Ishak (pictured on Singapore’s local currency) watched military and civil contingents, as well as those from various schools, march past and into the city where the parade culminated in a mass lion and dragon dance performance.
The parade grew from strength to strength and even the heavy rain of 1968 didn’t deter the crowds.
In 1970 the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) joined to support the festivities with the introduction of a flypast of both the State Flag, and the People’s Association contingent got involved by its appearance with the streamer float. The association’s participation was acknowledged in the 2015 parade, celebrating the country’s 50th birthday, by former members re-enacting the role the float played.
Although the NDPs were initially held annually at the Padang, other venues were introduced after 1974 and have included the old and now the new National Stadiums, the Marina Bay Floating Stadium, and on a few occasions, at decentralized locations, the last of which occurred in 1983. The general itinerary has, however, remained constant and involves military parades and displays by the Singapore Armed Forces, flypasts from the RSAF, and themed shows reflecting the local culture. It culminates with a stunning fireworks display accompanied by Singapore patriotic songs.
Each NDP is prepared for meticulously and there are a several rehearsals which are in essence the same spectacular performance as the real thing. Getting tickets to see either the rehearsals or the actual event involves an application through the NDP website, open to Singaporean citizens and PRs, and often involves a contest. However, every year students at the Primary 5 level have the opportunity to attend a rehearsal in order to ensure they get the opportunity to see the parade at least once in their lives. In the event one doesn’t get a ticket, it is aired live on the MediaCorp channels, or you can join the crowds outside to feel a part of it.
The National Day Rally (NDR), at which the Prime Minister speaks, is conducted on the first or second Sunday after the NDP. Held annually since 1966, and first televised in 1971, the Prime Minister addresses key issues and policy changes similar to the President of the United States' State of the Union Address. The rally has been held in different locations, beginning with the now defunct National Theatre. In recent years, the venue has been the Institute of Technical Education College Central.
When my Singapore-American family attends the AAS July 4 celebrations at the Singapore American School (SAS), another of our annual pilgrimages, we often notice the RSAF Chinook helicopter carrying the large Singapore flag south of the SAS campus as a part of the preparations for the NDP. If you happen to see it at next year’s event, think of Singapore, too; our host country’s independence celebrations are not far away.
Marc Servos is a Hoosier in terms of his home state and Alma Mater. The Fort Wayne, Indiana, native is married to a Singaporean, Sherley, and has been living here for years. He has two children, ages 16 and 8.
Photo courtesy of Thant Zaw Wat/Alamy Stock