National Day, previously also known as Hari Merdeka, Merdeka Day or Independence Day, originated on 31 August 1957; the day on which the Malayan federation (today’s west Malaysian states) gained independence from Britain.
Sabah & Sarawak did not participate in this particular date in history, as Sarawak would only gain their independence on 22 July 1963, and Sabah theirs on 31 August the same year. Regardless and in spite, Merdeka Day is celebrated nationwide, with parades and activities of all sorts in cities throughout Malaysia.
Over the last few years however, with discussions and information spreading faster and more openly online, Merdeka Day’s irrelevance to east Malaysia has become more widely known and controversial among the informed, especially as big corporations would use the number of years since 1957 to celebrate “Malaysia’s birthday” in their marketing.
In 2016, while both government and corporations stubbornly continued celebrating the increasingly divisive holiday with the controversial number of years featured prominently in displays and logos, it was renamed National Day.
Meanwhile, half-hearted celebrations on 16 September, which is Malaysia Day and the actual date on which Malaysia as a country came to be, have only served to underline a country divided under the current political regime.
National Day remains a prominent, lavish celebration, with Malaysia Day as an also-ran, barely observed by official structures, and regarded by many as little more than just an extra public holiday.