By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
That was the first time we celebrated the National Day this way.
On the Merdeka eve, tens of thousands of people wearing yellow gathered in front of Dataran Merdeka for a Janji Bersih rally.
A stone's throw way at Jalan Sultan, a large crowd also began to take shape, vowing to keep the old street intact as their alternative way of celebrating Merdeka.
Of course, none of these events had been designed by the authorities but civilian pressure groups.
The participants were high-spirited but orderly. The police were seen keeping things in order. No intervention or forced intrusion.
The gathering went ahead smoothly and the participants left for home happily after that.
On the second morning, the government's official celebration continued to take place in front of the Dataran as planned, attended by VIPs impressed by the neat performances of uniformed groups.
At night, the spectacular Janji Ditepati National Day celebration was kicked off at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
Some might claim it was a show of force for the two opposing political camps in the country, but I would rather look at it from a different angle: the dawn of a new era.
We used to have only one format of National Day celebration in the past: the government's way, something recognised and approved by the ruling coalition.
More or less the same types of symbols, more or less the same slogans and largely identical costumes as well.
What I was trying to say is that it was an era of exclusivity, one specific set of norms.
As time went by, it evolved into a stereotyped reality that was increasingly distanced from the masses and no longer able to strike a chord with most Malaysians.
By contrast, the continued progress of our society calls for diverse thinking that would put the antiquated all -inclusive way of doing things to challenge.
In the meantime, changes taking place in the country's political structure and the emergence of a new force are coming together to impact those in power.
They have their own versions of interpretations on a number of issues pertaining to public well-being. They contest with each other aggressively to win public approval and recognition.
Merdeka celebration as a ceremony of national identity is not to be exempted, with each side having its own way of manifestation.
While the ruling coalition has "Janji Ditepati" as this year's National Day theme, Pakatan Rakyat has churned out "Sebangsa, Senegara, Sejiwa."
In addition to the official celebration endorsed by the federal government, the people staged their own events to celebrate the nation's birthday.
The point is not which side had a larger following, or who had a more convincing theme, but that both sides could have their own interpretations and expectations for the National Day under the principles of fair competition, indirectly enriching the connotation of Merdeka celebration.
So long as these gatherings have been carried out in a peaceful manner, they should be viewed as a positive gesture that would rekindle a new understanding of our nationhood.