Singapore has 11 public holidays, but there is not one holiday that all Singaporeans celebrate together as families within the nation family, said former Cabinet minister George Yeo yesterday.
Whether it is Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali or Good Friday, the ethnic and religious festivals are celebrated by different groups here with their compadres around the world.
Meanwhile, during holidays like May Day or National Day, many Singaporeans take the chance to go overseas, Mr Yeo added to chuckles.
"Eleven public holidays - when do we celebrate together, as families within the nation family? We don't," he said.
Mr Yeo, who was speaking at the launch of the book, Singapore's Multiculturalism: Evolving Diversity, made the point to illustrate that despite the "fractured reality" of Singapore, there is a coherence that keeps society together.
"What is it that makes Singapore what it is? I think we've got used to each other. We like each other's food. We have jokes," he said.
"That which makes us special is a mind which is a little broader to diversity and a heart which is a little bigger to diversity," he added.
The book, written by Professor Chan Heng Chee and Dr Sharon Siddique from the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, analyses the path Singapore has taken since independence, in comparison with other multicultural societies, and also anticipates what Singapore society might look like around 2040.
Prof Chan, who is chairman of the centre and Ambassador-at-Large, said at the event that multiculturalism needs a guiding hand to work.
Referring to the recent controversy over "brownface", in which a Chinese actor had his skin darkened to play the roles of an Indian man and a Malay woman in an ad, Prof Chan said it showed that multiculturalism is a work in progress.
"You can have multiculturalism, but something can flare up. Put another way, multiculturalism... faces changing goalposts all the time. You think you've solved some of the issues, and new issues emerge. You have to keep working at it."
In response to the advertisement, YouTube artist Preeti Nair and her brother created a parody rap video containing four-letter words and vulgar gestures, to call out "Chinese privilege".
The video was removed.
Yesterday, Prof Chan said the term was "cultural appropriation" of the American white privilege.
A member of the audience said in response that while the concept of "Chinese privilege" might have been borrowed from the West, "a lot of minorities have been talking about those issues on a daily basis without using the term".
Prof Chan said that while the Chinese make up 75 per cent of the population, they do not claim majoritarian status for themselves.
"So, Mandarin is not the main tongue, it's English... Every language is equal," she added.
Mr Yeo said problems have always existed between the different communities and complaints were unavoidable.
Citing this year's National Day Parade where rock icon Ramli Sarip's rendition of the National Anthem stirred debate, Mr Yeo said many Chinese found it "too sad" and felt it should be more rousing like a march.
"But this is part of the landscape of Singapore," he said, adding that things had not changed from the time he was information and the arts minister from 1990 to 1999.
"There have always been problems, always from each community there have been complaints. We need to see this in proportion, maintain our sense of humour, celebrate each other's festivals and enjoy each other's food and then chill a little bit."