Culture International Lifestyle

How different are Singapore and Malaysia’s National Day celebrations?

This article was originally published Aug 2017.


It’s Singapore National Day on 9th August, commemorating the tiny country’s separation from Malaysia in 1965 (sigh, it’s complicated 😕 ). Every year, we read about the National Day Parade and how it’s such a YUUUGE occasion, it’s even got its own website (eh must have ticket to go one k)!

Without fail, the Prime Minister will give a speech that would be broadcast before 5.6 million Singaporeans, on the second or third Sunday after, called the National Day Rally (with topics ranging from babies to casinos. wuut?). And then there are the unmissable fireworks! One year, Mentos even did a commercial encouraging Singaporeans to make more babies during the fireworks.

CILISOS wanted to know what it’s like from a Malaysian’s point of view seeing Singaporeans celebrate their National Day and how different it is compared to our own National Day. We spoke to 7 Malaysians living in Singapore.


1. “The leaders wear red and white shirts and pants, not cultural costumes. Singaporeans at large will wear red and white. Kids are asked to wear red and white to school.”

singapore national day ministers

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and People’s Association staff in red and white, Singapore’s national colours. Image from The Straits Times

As Singapore is small and concentrated, the mood is usually felt all around and foreigners can’t help but be caught up with the hype as well, said Pat Ng, who lived in Singapore for 5 years before recently moving to Nanjing. She’s talking about flags, flags, everywhere. Red and white – those are the 2 main colours seen during National Day. Apparently, Singaporeans sometimes take dressing in their national colours quite seriously.

“I noticed that apart from traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian costumes for dancers, Singapore doesn’t really have strong ethnic or racial identities. The leaders wear red and white shirts and pants, not always cultural costumes. The celebrities wear western clothing. Singaporeans at large will wear red and white. Kids are asked to wear red and white to school on an allocated day.” – Pat told CILISOS

singapore national schools red white

Singaporean schoolkids in red and white. Image from

Another Malaysian working in Singapore also got an email from the boss encouraging employees to dress in red and white on the day before National Day, which she forwarded to us. In fact, Pat said, shops in malls will begin selling National Day themed clothing in malls in June or July, especially t-shirts for young and old. Plus we found ‘how to style’ articles online (here, here and here).


2. “Singapore keeps highlighting security and that they need to be ready for anything. I am sure they will be showcasing their military “readiness” tomorrow at the parade.”

singapore national day naval unit

Naval Diving Unit at Marina Bay

While running at Marina Bay Sands, Nevash Nair spotted the Naval Diving Unit preparing for the parade. The Straits Times reported that they were doing underwater security sweeps ahead of the event to make sure there were no suspicious objects in the water.

“I think one of the biggest difference is how Singapore keeps highlighting security and that they need to be ready for anything. I am sure they will be showcasing their military “readiness” tomorrow at the parade.” – Nevash told CILISOS

Shajitha too had shared the same thing, explaining that in cinemas they’re always playing ads about terrorism with the tagline ‘not if but when’.

And when you get on a train, you can hear an announcement advising people to inform a security personnel if they see anything suspicious or if they see a bag unattended. The screens at MRT stations also repeat this, Nevash added. One dude got arrested for leaving his bag unattended and the cops shut down the whole of Hougang MRT station because of that. Later discovered that it only contained household items, then they reopened the station. Ermagerd  😯

singapore mrt man arrested unattended bag

Arrested for leaving his bag unattended. Image from Straits Times

“They are always on the edge lah. Bangkok also not like that”, said the Malaysian who recently relocated to Singapore after spending 2 years in Bangkok, Thailand.


3. “To be honest I think Malaysia is crazier when it comes to flags.”

singapore hdb flag malaysia merdeka

Well, this Johorean is keeping his flag tradition strong. Images from Wikimedia (left) and The Star

We got conflicting reports on this one. Some of our Malaysian friends working there feel that Singaporeans go nuts with flags come National Day, but one of our friends Igat from Sarawak who works in PR said he feels Malaysia lagi gung-ho with the Jalur Gemilang. His Singaporean friends tell him they love their country, but shy to express la, so they are quietly proud.

“To be honest I think KL is crazier when it comes to flags. The multiple stick flags on cabs, whole blocks of apartments covered in flags, etc. You do see flags on buildings, in kopitiams and on e-scooters [in Singapore]. But then again perhaps because that’s what I see in the city on Orchard Road. I’m sure it’s more prominent in the inner suburbs and HDB areas, but I haven’t seen it myself yet.” – Igat told CILISOS

Suren Buttas, our Editor-in-Chief’s friend, said however that Singapore is probably more kiasu when it comes to putting up flags:

“For one, I feel like I see more flags here. Might have to do with the fact that housing is more uniform and HDBs are not as high rise as our condos, giving the impression of more people putting up flags. Dude, actually the people here are a bit more hardcore about National Day la. I’ve seen a few families decked out in red and white on my way to buy roti canai from the nearby shop.” – Suren told CILISOS

So there are some interesting insights here about Malaysia’s own National Day… perhaps it shows that the flag game in Sarawak is still quite strong compared to the Klang Valley? Our team concurs that in recent years, we see fewer flag decorations during Merdeka, BUUTTT we can only speak for the Klang Valley.

The Japanese spy who secretly saved thousands of Malayans during WWII


4. “At least 2-3 months before, there will be adverts at bus stops honouring pioneers.”

singapore national day newspaper ads

National Day ads in newspapers

To get people in the mood for National Day, patriotic ads will start popping up. Every year, there’s a new theme song and logoIn Singapore, Shajitha Sinasamy noticed they are put up quite early, at least 2 to 3 months before. Shajitha, who works in Business Development at The Stakeholder Company (TSC), moved to Singapore in July 2015.

She has come across a few at bus stops, honouring pioneers, or about some exhibition, asking people to contribute, and so on. Ads will be shown in cinemas too and in newspapers, which Shajitha has snapped photos of and sent to us (above). Honestly, she feels sometimes that Singaporeans are a little brainwashed la. 😛

“The one I’ve seen is an excerpt from Martin Luther King delivering his “I have a dream” speech, with collages of Singaporean people and at the end, the tag line, “what people dream of, we already have”.” – Shajitha told CILISOS

Businesses also ride on the wave of patriotism, though some brands unfortunately made some boo boos, like Giordano’s not local enough family to promote its National Day polo tee and a sushi restaurant’s special new sushi roll, Maki-Kita. 😆 Speaking of food…


5. “The biggest thing you’ll realise is, restaurants, fast food or proper ones, they all have dishes created just in conjunction with National Day.”

singapore national day food dishes burger king mcdonalds toast box

Burger King and Toast Box’s National Day menu

Just 7 months in Singapore, Reagan Raj, a Senior Creative in advertising has already been swept up in the National Day food craze… yep, FOOD craze.

“The biggest thing you’ll realise is, restaurants, fast food or proper ones, they all have dishes created just in conjunction with National Day.” – Reagan told CILISOS

He sent us some examples, like Toast Box’s Tok Gong Chilli Crab Toast Sticks (oooh), Burger King’s Hainanese Tendergrill Chicken Meal and Rendang Beef Burger (ahhh), and McDonald’s Nasi Lemak Burger and Cendol McFlurry (nomnom). But the Nasi Lemak Burger has pissed some people off…..for not containing nasi. 😆 It just has a coconut-flavoured chicken patty, fried egg, onions, cucumber, and sambal in a semolina bun.

METRO GRAB - taken from the Facebook page of McDonald's Singapore McDonalds have really p*ssed people off with this new burger in Indonesia Picture shows McDonald’s Singapore burger Picture: McDonald's

McD’s National Day menu

“They are for limited time and run for a month. I’m not sure about the rest, but McDonald’s sold out in a week.” – Reagan

Yup, Singaporeans were so mad at McDonald’s they decided to kill the no-nasi, nasi lemak burger by eating it.

But yeah, Malaysia doesn’t have Merdeka or National Day menus. Promos got la, but not menu items specifically launched. Usually for us, restaurants only do something special during Hari Raya or Chinese New Year, which brings us to the next point…


6. “They post photos of themselves waving flags, photos of fighter jet planes whizzing in the air, rehearsing for the parade.”

Singapore national day fb

Singaporeans are hyped up for ND and you can tell on social media

In the weeks leading up to Singapore National Day, Reta Lee’s social media timeline has been flooded with postings about preparations by her Singaporean friends.

“They post photos of themselves waving flags, photos of fighter jet planes whizzing in the air, rehearsing for the parade. Here more meriah lah. There seem to be some stories shared online about people and their struggles, there’s sense of pride, people reminiscing.” – Reta Lee, Group Editor, told CILISOS

The KL-ite who has lived in Singapore for close to 2 years now since she moved there in October 2015 also noticed streets and buildings decorated with flags and couldn’t resist sharing this snap on her own Instagram.

Reta instagram singapore flag

Geez, remember when we used to decorate like this too?

“I think my most memorable visual I remember is of blocks and block of HDB flats lined with flags – rows after rows – which made it look like an Insta-worthy moment.” – Reta

Every year Singapore celebrates with a new theme song, Reta told us, and this year’s song is ‘Because it’s Singapore’, which is BLOWING UP on social media as well, just check out the conversations on Facebook. So, with the hype all over people’s timelines, it’s hard not to get in the mood.. even if she’s not Singaporean. As a Malaysian, Reta can’t help feeling excited for her Singaporean friends and colleagues, whom she might even be joining for the fireworks festivities.


Singaporeans really give the impression that they love their country

singapore pride

Just look at those faces of love XD. Image from

As far as impressions go, Malaysians who live in Singapore tell us that Singaporeans seem to be really proud of their country and love their country.

To instill a sense of loyalty, Singapore pushes the idea of national identity quite heavily, rather than cultural identity. So instead of saying, ‘we are Malay, Chinese, Indians…we are Singaporeans’ first and foremost. Can be seen quite clearly in the Martin Luther King ad. This special brand of racial harmony was fostered from Lee Kuan Yew’s time, up to now, carried on by his son Hsien Loong.

But to say it’s all sunshine and rainbows is painting a wrong picture la (yes, even if you use red and white paint). There are the Amos Yees of Singapore who are not convinced. Just check this site called Wake Up, Singapore.

Still, Singapore has achieved much, a giant in Southeast Asia despite the odds. One of the world’s most modern countries, one of the world’s richest, the most advanced digital economy, they can drink their own pee and not die from it, and so on. They do have many reasons to be proud at the end of the day… now if only they could stop claiming fame to OUR FOOD.  😉


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