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Growing Up Celebrating National Day as a Singaporean

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

By Theodorus Ng


Image: Toh W.S.


2021 marks a special year for celebrating Singapore’s independence in the National Day Parade (NDP). It is the first time the hallmark event has ever been postponed, since its incipience in 1966, with major adaptations to its proceedings to uphold pandemic safety. In this period of commemoration, I fondly remember pre-pandemic National Days, hoping for a better norm post-pandemic. I thought it might be fun if I let you in on some of my favorite memories and traditions.

On the 9th of August, my family would gather for a nice home-cooked meal while tuning in to the NDP on live television. While this is quite typical on any holiday, it feels particularly special on National Day because I am reminded of the importance of the nuclear family in nation-building and of my ancestors’ resilience through the unfathomably dark past which has enabled us to enjoy safe and peaceful comfort today.

I do remember one year where we did something different. We took a trip to Lazarus Island on my uncle’s yacht for a day of food, friends and fun. By nightfall, we departed from the dock and anchored at a vantage point in the middle of the ocean to catch an undisrupted view of the fireworks.


My family viewing the fireworks in 2016. (Image: Theodorus Ng)


For many Singaporeans, the prodigious pyrotechnics are the star of the show. While there are fireworks peppered throughout, I am talking about the main one, the coup de foudre, the anticipated finale, very much a grand one. It becomes the talk of the town in discussions on the unique design for a certain year; the duration of the segment and extravagant costs compared to other years. It is also ritualistic for families who head down to the Marina Bay vicinity just to be a part of the marvel. This is perhaps because, unlike many other countries where nationals celebrate with recreational fireworks or firecrackers right in their backyards, Singapore has had a ban on these since the 1970s. As such, nationwide events like NDP or New Year’s Eve Countdown are the only times in Singapore one can see this rare source of aesthetic gratification. All NDPs end with a BANG, literally, so here are some spots you might consider visiting on August 21 to view the magic.

I have had the privilege of attending one National Day Parade in my life – albeit a rehearsal – when I was 11. That was in 2013. As part of National Education, all Primary 5 students (about a Grade 6 equivalent), are given the opportunity to attend a rehearsal. I mean, it is great, as obtaining tickets to attend the actual event is tricky due to competitive public balloting. (Note however that this year, there will be no balloting and tickets will all be given to fully vaccinated frontline workers or community volunteers who have been crucial in the fight against COVID- 19.) My experience was thrilling, to say the least. Being a spectator in the stands, in the midst of talented performers, the real-time sights and sounds of fighter jet aerobatics and the company of Singaporean strangers who are all but unfamiliar, is indeed different from watching it on TV at home.


Class picture taken at an NDP rehearsal in 2013. (Image: Theodorus Ng)


Oh, and not to mention the coveted NDP Funpack I got that year! Typically, in a non-COVID year, these specially-designed bags containing loads of goodies are given to those who manage to get their hands on tickets. Last year, as there had been an arrangement of celebrating virtually from home, every Singaporean and PR household were entitled to collect funpacks. They usually contain a mini Singapore flag, snacks and drinks, discount booklets, audience-interaction objects and my favorite — temporary tattoos!


A layout of the NDP Funpack from 2019 (pre-COVID). (Image: NDP 2019 Committee)


But perhaps my favorite part of National Day has always been the theme song. Every year a new song is composed and performed by local artistes, with complementary music videos. Beyond the catchy tunes of what seem like thoughtfully penned love letters to the nation and its nationals, the songs actually very successfully fulfil their purpose as a social cohesion factor in reigniting the Singaporean spirit. There is nothing more empowering and inspiring than throwing arms around friends, even strangers, and belting out the lyrics of “Home” and “Count On Me Singapore;” or jumping to the bop that is “Reach Out for the Skies.”At least that was how we celebrated National Day back in school. It was rather wild..


National Day celebration 2019 at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). The Scouts contingent performing “Singapore Town,”complete with a prop lion (left); a larger-than-life scout (middle); a very tiny Singapore flyer (right); and of course the Singapore flag. (Image: Kevia Tan)


The magic of these songs lies in their timelessness (many iconic ones existed even before I did!) as well as their universality for Singaporeans from all walks of life. It is definitely difficult to pick a favorite song, but if I had to choose one from the last decade, it would have to be a gentle, sentimental piece titled “Love At First Light” from 2012. Here is a complete list of every NDP song to date!

NDP is the most momentous occasion in Singapore, being a testament to the continuing success and progress of her and her people. You may tune in to the parade on all local TV channels in the evening of August 21. About the author Born and bred in Singapore, Theodorus graduated with an IB Diploma from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). He has a penchant for creative problem-solving and holds multiple World Finals awards from his time competing in Odyssey of the Mind. He believes in the power of culture and of volunteerism to bridge humans with one another. Currently a trainee with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, he is also awaiting matriculation.

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