NL Almanac

Dutch New Year Celebrations

New year celebrations in Holland always go with a bang


(The Dutch)... stay at home ... until midnight, then dash out on the streets and indulge in a freestyle orgy of pyrotechnics

The Dutch have their own unique way of celebrating New Year. They stay at home and celebrate quietly with the family until midnight, then dash out on the streets and indulge in a freestyle orgy of pyrotechnics.

The rituals

During the evening of New Year’s Eve, families gather together at home to play board games and watch traditional summaries of the year by popular Dutch comedians on TV. The streets become deserted and even the bangs of premature fireworks taper off to an eerie silence as the midnight hour approaches.

It is the evening of the great, Dutch doughnut (‘oliebol’). These are deep-fried balls of dough in various flavours, covered with icing sugar. They are only eaten during the New year period and in the run-up to New Year specialist street stalls appear to meet the demand. The doughnuts are washed down with coffee and later, champagne.

On the stroke of midnight, the Dutch toast the occasion with another quick glass then take to the streets outside their homes with frighteningly large stocks of fireworks. Holland must be the only country where so many fireworks are let off in such a short space of time on the public highway.

Shortly after midnight a huge wave of thumping acoustic shockwaves resounds in the air and entire banks of machine guns seem to be going off at the same time — these are the so-called ‘duizendklappers’ and they can last for several, deafening minutes. It sounds like a major war has broken out but luckily there are also many sky rockets and decorative fireworks. The deafening noise tails off after an hour or so but sporadic bangs are heard throughout the night and well into the next day.

During the hours around midnight the streets are deserted, public transport stops running and bars and cafes close. Some bars open again at 1 a.m. but there is little tradition in Holland of New Year parties outside the home. This is probably due to the dangers of roaming the streets with so many fireworks going off!

The controversy

All this pyrotechnic anarchy sometimes leads to localised rioting. In years gone by, great bonfires were made from discarded Christmas trees at the end of every street and many youngsters (and adults) are eager to see this tradition continue today. The authorities take a dim view of this custom, however, and send out the police and fire brigade to stop the bonfires. Helicopters have even been used to search for trouble spots.

The next morning – bonfires or not – the streets are a dark red carpet of burnt-out firework husks.