Significance of Vietnam’s National Day (2nd September)
On 2nd September 1945, after World War II, following the August Revolution in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and independence from French and Japanese Rule.
French Colonial Rule
Prior to World War II, Vietnam has been a French colony since 1885, and part of French Indochina since 1887. Economic progress and development under French rule benefitted only France along with a small class of Vietnamese colonial administrators and wealthy locals. The vast masses of people generally suffered; rice consumption was down, the peasant’s share of land was heavily unequal, the population became more illiterate, and the people were subjected to heavy taxes.
After France fell to Nazi Germany, the Japanese were permitted to occupy Vietnam. Indochina became a French-administered possession of Japan. 30,000 Japanese troops were stationed in Indochina, which became an important staging area for Japanese military operations in Southeast Asia.
The Japanese tried to win over the Vietnamese, a policy that differed from the brutality and oppression deployed in China, Korea, and Singapore. Japanese propaganda suggested that they were the liberators driving out white imperialism where in fact it was a far cry from reality.
Viet Minh and the August Revolution
Ho Chi Minh, a believer of Vietnamese independence, organised the formation of the Viet Minh – a national front alliance called the League for the Independence of Vietnam. During World War II, the Viet Minh led guerrilla operations against the Japanese and gained control of many northern territories. Ho Chi Minh saw the Viet Minh as the legitimate representative of Vietnamese national aspirations.
When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the Viet Minh moved into Hanoi with success. The general uprising called the August Revolution resulted in Vietnam’s last emperor Bao Dai abdicating.
On 2 September 1945, about half a million people gathered in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi to hear Ho Chi Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
A long and rocky road was still ahead for Vietnam as a nation-state with the Indochina Wars coming and reunification only in 1976. The second of September is considered a milestone date in post-colonial Vietnamese history, and a public holiday in the country.
Check out more details of the event at Ba Dinh Square in 1945.
Video recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aBnz6GiT1g
Celebrating the Vietnamese National Day
In the weeks leading up to Vietnam’s National Day, the streets will normally be overtaken by patriotic decorations. The Vietnamese flag with a brilliant gold star and a red background takes centre stage. Individual households put up flags from their windows or gardens to celebrate the hard-won independence of their nation. The streets and public spaces are also filled with decorations in accordance with the theme of national pride.
Official Parade at Ba Dinh Square
Given the historical significance of Ba Dinh Square, the national parade is held there annually. Colourful floats and women dressed in Ao Dai, police forces and army vehicles, members of different ethnic groups, all march down the square. Starting in front of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the parade containing as many as 30,000 people takes off and continues through some streets of Hanoi.
Across the country, in cities, towns, and villages, will mark the occasion with speeches, parades, performances, or events.
Pictures of past Vietnamese National Day parades
In celebration of this momentous day, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City often put up fireworks shows during night time. In the past, 5 spots in Hanoi would set off fireworks that could be seen across the city, at the lakes of Hoan Kiem, West and Van Quan, Thong Nhat Park and My Dinh National Stadium. In 2019, Saigon organised 3 fireworks shows at Thu Thiem Tunnel, Landmark 81, and Dem Sen Park.
Travelling and Family Gatherings
In recent years, urban Vietnamese take the opportunity of the public holiday to travel. Public holidays are few and far between in Vietnam, and many Vietnamese have decided the best way to celebrate the day off is to travel.
Many Vietnamese living in Hanoi or Saigon would travel to nearby beach resorts or mountainous regions with their families, or they would visit their hometowns. Some of them would even take the time to go abroad. As a result, the cities are quiet and peaceful.
For locals who decide not to travel, this is an opportune time to gather with friends and family to enjoy a feast or a party. Hot pot is a favourite meal for this occasion!
Foreigners in Vietnam
When there were no COVID-19 restrictions, the Vietnam National Day would be an ideal time to get to know Vietnam’s history and join in the celebrations.
In Hanoi, pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Do also try to get a good viewing spot of the parade at Ba Dinh Square.
If you are in Saigon, you could visit the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the reunification palace, and book a spot at a rooftop bar to enjoy the city’s fireworks display.
Wherever you are, definitely take in the atmosphere of the cities, and stroll through the streets to enjoy the various decorations on display. The tourism boards also use this opportunity to organise street shows and various art performances.
Celebrating in 2021
Even though public celebrations will likely be muted this year with COVID-19 lockdowns across the country, it is still a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge the challenges Vietnam has overcome to be the independent country it is today. It’s been a difficult year for Vietnam, but we take heart in looking back on how Vietnam has grown as a country and look forward to the better days to come.
While most of us would not be out celebrating on the streets this year, you can still take the time to wish each other a happy national day, and if possible, organise a hot pot meal for your household.
For others looking to get their Vietnam culture fix this National Day, here are some Vietnamese films and fun events to check out this week. Happy National Day! 🎉