Singapore and its citizens have had to make major adjustments to a new normal in the wake of COVID-19. This includes celebrations for the annual National Day celebrations; and 2020 saw a new format that will repeat itself in 2021 to keep everyone home and safe, but still feeling involved.
If you thought this was a major shake-up for our National Day Parade (NDP), you’d be wrong. Ever since the first celebration occurred on the Padang in 1966, organisers have switched up the programme, the delivery, and sometimes even the location.
The younger among us might be surprised by how today’s funpacks were more “survival packs” when they first appeared in 1991. Some of you might even remember a certain after-party along Orchard Road. But only the most die-hard fans will know these seven pieces of trivia when it comes to the beloved event.
1. IT WAS NOT ALWAYS ON AUGUST 9
Even those who were old enough to witness the early National Day celebrations might have forgotten that it was not always on Aug 9.
Between 1960 and 1963, Singapore’s National Day was on June 3 to commemorate the day when the city state attained self-governance after the withdrawal of the British from Malaya and Singapore in 1959.
This date was moved three more times thereafter. Once in 1963, to Aug 31 when Singapore declared de facto independence, and another time in 1963, to Sept 16 when the merger with Malaysia happened.
2. TO PADANG OR NOT TO PADANG
Most of us have fond memories of the National Day parade happening at the Padang, but in a bid to bring the celebrations closer to Singaporeans, the government did experiment with different locations within Singapore throughout the years.
This was most apparent between 1975 and 1983, prompted by the first decade of Singapore’s independence. Celebrations saw various contingents, cultural groups’ performances, and fireworks displays occurring across 13 locations including places such as Queenstown Stadium, Haig Road, Maxwell Road and the Istana.
Two of the more popular venues included the first National Stadium for the 1976 NDP. And in a test of logistics and creativity, the Marina floating platform became the first purpose-built venue for the event in 2007.
3. TICKETS COULD CHANGE HANDS AT STEEP PRICES
The early popularity of the National Day celebrations meant crowd control became an important priority for the organisers. So 1979 was the first year in which the NDP was ticketed to manage spectators.
But there was no stopping the love. Long lines formed during ticket sales, resulting in some even queuing overnight for NDP tickets. And with demand, came the scalpers. Before online balloting somewhat curbed the phenomena, the highest price one paid for a ticket was allegedly S$500.
4. NOT A MORNING PERSON?
With the early celebrations focused on parade pageantry and speeches, it was natural to have NDP have an early start in the day. But as the event grew in scale and popularity, the parades that were held in the morning opted for a later slot in 1973, when the good attendance in the evening made it a permanent decision to this day. It also made for prettier fireworks undoubtedly.
5. CRASH LANDING INTO YOU
The Red Lions only came to be formalised in 1989, but there were K-drama worthy moments in the early years when skydivers landed off their marks.
1981 saw two commando skydivers land 50 metres from the target stadium – but to encouraging applause still. And during Singapore’s last decentralised parade in 1983, a commando’s main parachute failed, causing him to engage his emergency chute and land in Whampoa instead of Toa Payoh Stadium.
6. TAKE TO THE STREETS
In 1987, the NDP finished in a novel way. After the fireworks, spectators were given the option to gather at the Padang – fully – and enjoy an impromptu patriotic music and dance festival. This was such a runaway success that it inspired an official street party the following year.
On Aug 8, 1988, organisers closed off Orchard Road for people to gather for a first-of-its-kind street party known as Swing Singapore. The overwhelming attendance caused the event to be prematurely stopped, but a new date was set on Aug 27 to cater to the enthusiastic public. A whopping 250,000 turned up eventually.
7. IN TRIBUTE TO OUR MEDICAL WORKERS
Healthworkers and frontliners were hailed as heroes in 2020 but that was not the first time we honoured their work and sacrifice. After the SARS outbreak claimed 33 lives in 2003, the organisers of NDP included a tribute with a contingent of 240 healthcare workers to represent the professionals in the industry who prevented a worse outcome. No doubt for 2021, we’ll continue to see them being honoured for their incredible work.