6 June 2024

Unlike many other countries, Thailand does not usually celebrate its national day. And it is not uncommon to find Thais who have no idea what date it takes place or even that it exists at all.

December 5, the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been marked as Thailand’s national day since May 1960. But the day is often celebrated as Father’s Day and the birth anniversary of the highly revered monarch.

But Thai national day is now a topic of hot public debate after Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome said recently that his party – now leading an effort to form a new coalition government – will push to change its date to June 24.

Rangsiman said the change was originally proposed by Move Forward’s predecessor, the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, when it was in opposition.

On June 24, 1932, during the reign of King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), Khana Ratsadon (the People’s Party) – a group of mostly foreign-educated bureaucrats, military officers, and civilians – seized power in a bloodless coup. What later became known as the Siamese Revolution transformed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

What is a national day?

Countries usually celebrate national day to mark the birth of their nation or statehood, and the date is often a public holiday. The concept of national days emerged in the age of nationalism, with most established in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Celebrating nationhood

There are plenty of reasons why different countries recognize a particular date as their national day.

Former colonies mostly designate the date they declared independence from colonial rule. This is the largest group of countries with official national days. It includes the United States, most nations in the Americas, a majority of African countries, much of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and almost all Southeast Asian nations.

Other states derive national days from a revolution or unification. These include France, Egypt, Iran, Germany, and Italy.

Many monarchies link their national day to a birthday or significant occasion related to one of their monarchs, past or present. These include Thailand, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bhutan, and Sweden.

History of Thai national day

During the reign of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), Siam recognized the monarch’s birthday, his coronation day, and the traditional Songkran New Year as national day.

However, in 1920, the country declared its national day as April 6, or Chakri Memorial Day, which commemorates the establishment of the current Chakri Dynasty when King Rama I ascended the throne in 1782.

Following the Siamese Revolution in 1932, then-prime minister Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena issued an order on July 18, 1938, to designate June 24 as national day to commemorate the country’s transformation from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

A grand inaugural celebration of the new national day was held the following year on June 24 under the government led by Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

In 1939, Plaek marked national day by declaring a change in the country’s name from Siam to Thailand.

Between 1939 and 1948, the national day was celebrated for three consecutive days, from June 23 to 25. From 1949, the day was marked on June 24 only.

Another change came two decades later when then-prime minister Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat announced his government’s decision to recognize December 5, King Bhumibol’s birthday, as “the nation’s day of celebration”, in place of the June 24 national day.

Sarit’s announcement stated that it was “improper” to designate June 24 as the national day since many countries with a monarch as head of state recognize their birthday as national day while Thailand had also recognized a royal birthday as national day before.

In February 2017, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha issued a PM’s Office announcement that His Majesty the King’s command called for December 5 to be marked as the previous king’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the national day.

By Thai PBS World