An Evolving Celebration
Singapore first celebrated National Day and the accompanying parade since 1966, a year after its separation from Malaysia.
The parade has grown and evolved over the years to incorporate new aspects, such as the flypasts of the state flag and air force jets in 1970, the Guard of Honour in 1976 and the first theme song, ‘Stand Up for Singapore’, in 1984. More recent years have also seen the introduction of new NDP traditions such as the Red Lions parachute jumps (1989) and the NDP funpack (1991).
Since 2015, the Parade has also cost approximately $40 million to hold, apart from the Covid-19-affected NDP 2020.
With the ability of the celebrations to evolve over time, and with this tradition persisting for over half a century despite the costs involved, we want to know what Singaporeans think of its significance and the importance of its various components.
Measuring Our Progress, Defining Our Identity
When asked what they considered to be the purpose of celebrating National Day was, Singaporeans generally rated highly factors that related to remembering the past, building up our national identity and acknowledging contributions to the nation. Of the factors assessed, respondents were least likely to agree or strongly agree that displaying military might (52%) was the purpose of celebrating National Day.
Respondents were most likely to agree or strongly agree the purpose was to mark Singapore’s progress. However, two out of three of the factors that received the most ‘strongly agree’ responses were factors that relate to nation-building and communal identity – fostering national identity (34%) and celebrating ethnic diversity (34%). Thus, while the question of our shared identity may be slightly more divisive, it appears to be a major factor in national celebrations for a significant section of the population.
Symbols and Songs Unite Us
Singaporeans were most likely to agree or strongly agree that collectively reciting the pledge and national anthem (87%) was an important part of Singapore’s identity, compared to other factors. One reason for the centrality of this could be the regular practice of Singaporeans reciting these together since young when in school. This also received the most ‘strongly agree’ responses (37%), indicating that the symbolic practices resonate deeply among respondents.
The importance of national symbols to Singaporeans is further reinforced by the two factors that received the next most ‘strongly agree’ responses – the flypast of the state flag and fighter jets (28%), and National Day songs (26%).
Most Identify with Celebrations, but Not All
A majority of Singaporeans agreed or strongly agreed that their personally expressed national identity (60%) and ethnic identity (57%) were reflected in National Day celebrations.
While this suggests that the parade and celebrations capture the general essence of the Singaporean identity, more than a third of respondents did not agree that their personal national (40%) or ethnic (43%) identities were captured by the celebrations. This may suggest that there is room for new additions to the National Day celebrations that help to more comprehensively reflect the Singaporean identity.
An Outward Show of Force
Not every country incorporates a military parade into their independence celebrations, but the military display and combat demonstrations have become an integral part of Singapore’s National Day parade. This is indicated by the majority of respondents who agree or strongly agree that the military and combat displays are essential for Singapore’s security (61%).
However, less than half (47%) of Singaporeans agree or strongly agree that the displays make them feel safer. One example for this difference may be that Singaporeans view the displays primarily as a tool of foreign policy to dissuade aggression by neighbouring countries, with whom relations have often been shaky.
In conclusion, Singaporeans mostly strongly view National Day as way to commemorate independence, as well as to reflect on the growth of our country and forge a united society as we do so.
The national symbols and symbolic practices unique to Singapore appear to have a an outsized influence on Singaporean identity, but there may also be aspects of the Singaporean identity that are not currently adequately captured by our National Day celebrations.
Singapore’s practice of including military and combat displays also continues to be favoured by a slim majority of Singaporeans, but this is generally perceived as less important than other traditions, and may be viewed by some as targeted at foreign audiences.