First there was Hung Kings Day. Now comes the second post-Tet holiday of the year. And you’ll notice a country swelling with pride.
Reunification Day, or Liberation Day as it’s sometimes known, is one of the most important public holidays in Vietnam.
You’ve surely heard about Reunification Day before, and the name itself is pretty self-explanatory. But what’s the real meaning behind the day? And how is it that people in Vietnam, and around the world, celebrate this public holiday?
To understand the reunification of Vietnam, we’ve got to start with how it ended up divided in the first place.
After World War II, Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, on September 2nd, 1945. His declaration quoted from the American Declaration of Independence. He also quoted the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
Fighting between French colonial forces and the Viet Minh intensified by the end of the year. This resulted in France’s retaking control of Saigon and the southern regions. The Viet Minh then turned to guerrilla tactics.
Although Viet Minh control in the North lasted a little longer, by the end of 1946 this was also gone. The Haiphong Incident, in which 6,000 citizens of the city were killed in a French bombardment, led to the Battle of Hanoi. Viet Minh forces under Vo Nguyen Giap were defeated. The troops then retreated to the countryside.
Over the following years, the Viet Minh kept up a campaign of low-level insurrection. This was particularly successful in the highlands and across the border in Laos.
French attempts to prevent Vietnamese troops from moving into Laos eventually led to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Vo Nguyen Giap’s crushing defeat of the French ended French colonial control of Vietnam.
Vietnam was divided into two separate areas at the Geneva Convention in 1954. This division mirrored the ideas also used in Korea. Even if the north falls to Communism, the south might resist its influence.
American troops, which first arrived in Vietnam in 1965, withdrew in 1973. North Vietnamese forces later made continued progress southward.
The Easter Offensive in 1975 had originally been planned as part of a smaller campaign. However, the rapidity with which the South Vietnamese army fell took many by surprise. So, the North Vietnamese troops continued south.
Saigon was captured by the forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam on April 30th, 1975. This marked the end of the American War.
And the modern-day Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formed.
Reunification Day itself serves a dual purpose. First and foremost, it is a day to celebrate the end of the conflict and the reunification of the country. It is also an opportunity for people to reflect on, and remember, a conflict that played an important role in the making of modern Vietnam.
Reunification Day is also a day on which to celebrate one’s patriotism.
Some overseas communities do not see the holiday in a particularly positive light. However, many of the festivities of the day serve as both remembrance and to highlight the achievements of the country following the end of the war.
The range of festivities across the country varies. From small, solemn affairs to bombastic military parades.
In the smaller provinces, there are ceremonies such as flag raising and speech giving. In larger cities, fireworks displays often take place. Also, many museums and cultural centers hold exhibitions and festivals. Last year saw ethnic folk games organized in Hanoi and a traditional crafts festival in Hue, among others.
Vietnamese consulates around the world celebrate the day too, particularly in those countries that offered assistance and support during the war.
International Labor Day follows this patriotic celebration. These back-to-back holidays lead many Vietnamese families to take the opportunity to visit their hometowns or to go on holiday. The major urban centers don’t become quite as quiet as during Tet, but they do mellow.
The holiday is also one of the many times of the year that flags fly up and down the country. You see them both outside people’s homes and in public spaces.
This year, there’s uncertainty about what’s going to happen on public holidays in Vietnam. And indeed, around the world.
The government canceled the major Hung Kings Day processions, to protect people from COVID-19. You can expect the same for Reunification Day, even with some of the lockdown restrictions lifted. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t all still get on board with the purpose of the day. It’s important to remember how Vietnam pulled itself together after such great adversity.
In these trying times, Reunification Day can serve as a reminder. Working together towards a common goal remains as fundamental a feature of society as ever.