If one ever loses track of the date, they would at least know when National Day draws near — it comes with quite a bit of fanfare. Funpacks are given out, songs are played, flags line the streets, National Day Parade (NDP) preparations begin. We are accustomed to these traditions, but what do they really mean for us? And really, what does patriotism look like today?
Welcome To NDP!
There are few constants in life — change, challenges, and NDP. Since 1966, Singapore has kept the annual tradition of holding NDP, regardless of weather or circumstance.
The first NDP in 1966 was organised amidst great trepidation and uncertainty. Independence had come swiftly and unwillingly by way of separation with Malaysia. It came as a shock to many, and the prior racial riots of 1964 had lent a somber mood to the nation. Add to the mix the looming problem of British troops withdrawing from Singapore, the pressing need to establish Singapore’s sovereignty on the international stage, the daunting task of survival, and one may find very little reason to celebrate, if any at all. Nevertheless, the simple parade consisting of a military march-past and a ‘sea dragon’ float were met with enthusiastic crowds, and served as a defiant promise for the country to strive and succeed despite the cards they were given.
That would not be the last NDP held against a backdrop of a crisis — 1985 saw Singapore’s first post-independence recession, 2003 the SARS outbreak, and 2008 the Great Recession. Each crisis was unprecedented in its own way, each dealt a heavy blow to the country. Nevertheless, the parades boosted morale and encouraged Singaporeans to stand together once again and overcome the trials that surfaced.
And of course there is Covid-19, the largest challenge yet. Some long held traditions were altered — in 2020, people could display the national flag outside their homes from April rather than July. For the first time, there were no live audiences, and parade elements such as the mobile column were moved to the heartlands. This year saw the postponement of NDP and cancelling of heartland activities. Nonetheless, the show will go on, a symbol of Singapore’s tenacity.
While this may not seem exceptional, the consistency of NDP is in fact a uniquely Singaporean phenomenon. What started as a rallying point for citizens of a new nation has become a yearly celebration of our journey thus far, and a proud showcase of Singapore’s fortitude to other nations.
The Songs We Sing
Another consistent companion to NDP is its accompanying National Day theme songs. “Stand Up For Singapore”, “We Are Singapore” and “Count On Me, Singapore” are classics many are familiar with, among others. Their boisterous, strikingly patriotic lyrics make them enjoyable to sing along to, regardless of race, language or religion.
Some songs in the later years also caught on. Learning the dance for “Reach Out For The Skies” was a fond memory in primary school. “In A Heartbeat” also tugged at heartstrings with its heartwarming music video. And do I even need to mention “Home”?
Of course, not all songs are well received. In the last decade, there have been increasing complaints by netizens about the NDP theme song of the year being unrelatable, cheesy, or simply forgettable. The most notorious would be “One Singapore” in 2013, heavily criticised for its purported similarity to nursery rhymes. This contributed to the decision to not have any new NDP theme song the following year, and an increased focus on the classics in subsequent years. To be fair, it’s no easy task to write a song that encapsulates the spirit of a country with such diverse people, to make it generally relevant to all, yet enjoyable.
This year’s song, “The Road Ahead”, seems to have managed just that. Greeted with what the songwriters deemed surprisingly positive feedback, the song has garnered great praise for its lyrics and accompanying music video. It may not be as grandiose or as triumphant compared to its predecessors, but its message of quiet confidence and hope for the future has struck a chord with Singaporeans. Perhaps its success should be no surprise; “Home”, arguably one of the most beloved NDP theme songs, also contains the themes of persevering through troubles, and that home is made up of its people to form a greater collective.
People, Our Natural Resource
It would be naive to ignore the fact that we’re facing many other challenges apart from Covid-19. Many of these problems have been festering long before the pandemic and have been brought into the spotlight in more recent times, demanding that they be addressed. Inadequate care for migrant workers, the ever prevalent, ever suppressed issue of racism, mental health… the list goes on. All sources of displeasure, anger, disgust at our country.
But it would be pessimistic to think there cannot be change, for it has already begun.
From advocating for minority groups to supporting national athletes at the Olympics, there has evidently been a shift towards kindness in recent years. Crises have an uncanny way of helping us with that. And this can be reflected in our own lives too, in the everyday moments no headline or social media account will document.
Perhaps, patriotism can have many forms, albeit mundane. Maybe it is the smile of a neighbour when you say hello. The awareness of one’s privilege, and how to use it for good. Calling out casual racism in conversations. Seeing beyond achievements, stereotypes…everything we think we know about others, and seeing them for who they are — people who love and dream just the same and possibly enjoy the same local foods as you. Accepting that there will always be differences, but knowing what we have in common is so much more important.
Beyond parades and songs, it is the people who shape national pride and the nation we live in. We cannot change the past, erase the crimes committed, or sit on our laurels. We cannot predict what the future brings — what challenges, what opportunities, what turns of tides.
But we have today. We have ourselves. Just as a drop of water is insignificant in its own right, but powerful as a collective, all it really takes is a single word or a single action from each of us to create the change we dream of.