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National Day

National Day on August 9 is an unexpected gem amidst a plentitude of multi-ethnic holidays in Singapore and should be a well-deserved favorite festival for anyone living here. Considering National Day’s quietness, calling it a favorite might seem like a surprise. Yet it has a plethora of advantages.

For one, it’s celebrated on more than one day. Singapore takes National Day very seriously and starts planning the following year’s National Day celebrations the day after the current one ends. And once it’s planned, it’s practiced. In 2022, there were more than half a dozen rehearsals and two “Previews,” where tens of thousands watched a full rehearsal, and hundreds of thousands of residents could watch helicopters flying the flag overhead and jets roaring past in formation as they practiced for the big day. Even the fireworks were tested. While many attendees at the American Association’s Fourth of July celebration last year at the Marina Barrage may have bemusedly imagined that the jets flying overhead and the fireworks after sunset were arranged for the event, they were actually part of a National Day rehearsal.

The decorations are also among the longest-lasting due to somewhat quirky Singapore regulations. For most of the year, residents here are not allowed to fly the Singapore flag at their homes. However, from July 1 through September 20, it’s permitted to fly the flag. Tens of thousands of people here put up a flag shortly after July 1 to start their National Day celebrations, and bunting, strings of mini-flags, and other decorations are on display. Even though Christmas decorations go up in mid-October and stay put until just past Christmas, they rarely stay up as long as the three months for National Day decorations.

And come National Day itself, almost the entire population of Singapore gears up for a day of celebration, food, and fun. Families gather for their favorite dishes or barbecues, and small events dot the island at parks or other public places.

The big event is the National Day Parade, a show like no other in Singapore. Thousands of lucky ticketholders, many of whom received a ticket to the event in a lottery, show up at the Float@Marina Bay or wherever the Parade is held. Government leaders come in next. Everyone watches the Singapore military and uniformed groups such as the Boys or Girls Brigade march past. Jets zoom overhead, and helicopters carry the flag over the venue. Attendees then watch an extravaganza of a show with a cast of hundreds, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, watch the event on television or via streaming. Listen carefully as the event comes to a close, and you can hear attendees at the event and Singaporeans in their homes all across the island reciting the pledge and singing the national anthem. It ends up with the best fireworks of the year.

And Singaporeans overseas participate as well. In Seattle, more than a hundred Singaporeans went to a National Day event in August to eat their favorite foods, recite the pledge, sing the national anthem, and catch up with friends – just like they would in Singapore.

While families celebrate religious holidays or even New Year events, few are as glamorous as National Day. Even Chinese New Year can seem less elaborate, despite the decorations and foods, as decorations are up for a shorter time, and it is more often celebrated on the day in families or small groups rather than by the nation as a whole.

Trite as it may sound, National Day is my favorite festival day here and a holiday well worth celebrating.

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