The first festivities took place in 1945 after Vietnamese forces successfully wrested control of the country from Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The date was chosen to coincide with the day Japan finally signed the Instrument of Surrender to mark their complete capitulation to the Allies.
Ba Dinh Square (a flower garden at the time) is the largest square in Vietnam, where the Declaration was first read by Ho Chi Minh before an assembled, orderly crowd, proclaiming to the world that Vietnam was a free and independent country. With the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai of the Nguyen dynasty in the same event, after thousands of years, Vietnam was transformed from a feudalist country to a democratic republic.
The Declaration both resembles and quotes from the American Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, invoking the legacy of the American and French Revolutions, and legitimizing the Vietnamese struggle against oppression as equal to these preceding battles. There was a watershed moment in the reading of the document. In the middle of his speech, Ho paused and asked whether the people could hear him. Many wept as the audience cried out as one, “Yes!” Before, an Emperor did not care whether everyone heard what he or his herald had to say; orders would be repeated and enforced soon enough. This was the first time a leader made sure that what he had to say was immediately understood by even the common people. Unfortunately, due to technological limitations, this historical turning point was not preserved – but we still have a recording of Ho Chi Minh reading the Declaration in his warm, distinctive Nghe Tinh accent, taped after the fact.
Today, Ho Chi Minh – affectionately known as Uncle Ho – still watches over the site as he rests in his Mausoleum. The site has become one of the most famous locations in Hanoi, attracting travelers from all over Vietnam and beyond, both to pay respects and out of touristic curiosity. Hanoians use Ba Dinh Square as a space to relax and enjoy nature, as the Square, in addition to being ringed by trees on the properties of surrounding government buildings, is also covered in square patches of grass divided by cobblestone lanes. The grass serves to cool down the space, as it is still used today for parades on major occasions, to prevent the oppressive summer sun from making people faint. There are also daily ceremonies for raising and lowering the national flag.
Vietnamese Independence Day is celebrated on September 1st and 2nd. Initially, it was only celebrated on the 2nd, the actual date of the event that it commemorates, but out of convenience, the government decided in 2021 to make the 1st a bank holiday as well. Depending on the year, if the holidays coincide with a weekend, Vietnamese people may get up to 4 days off. As part of the celebration, cities and provinces may organize different activities, including firework displays.