Culture, Dutch, Holidays/ Celebrations

Starting 2014 with a Bang

During the summer of 2013 we made a conscious decision (mostly at my request) to be out of the Netherlands for New Year’s Eve. Quite simply because I hate the destruction and vandalism of property and aggression against emergency workers which seems to dominate the headlines on New Year’s Day. And before I get a host of protest, I am aware that the majority of the Dutch population use fireworks in a normal manner and only at midnight, and that most Dutch people see the new year in in a gezellig manner. However, there are enough that use fireworks to blow up bins, bus stops, post boxes and even animals for me to personally experience the 31st of December as a complete nightmare.

It is the only day of the year that Dutch individuals are allowed by law to set off fireworks – and so they make the most of it. This means that even young children walk around neighbourhoods with a rucksack full of fireworks, not afraid to use them in any manner they see fit. In short, from 10am on New Year’s Eve some parts of the Netherlands sound like what I imagine a war zone sounds like. There are constant bangs and flashes throughout the day. Pensioners, animals and small children spend the day in fear, afraid to leave the house.

Our New Year’s Eve on the Beach

We usually get to Christmas (when the illegal setting off of fireworks starts with a vengeance), and I remember how much I hate New Year here by which time it is too late to escape. Last year whilst enjoying our summer holiday at Glynn Barton in Cornwall it occurred to us that spending Christmas and New Year there too would be nice. And it was. We had a fabulous time. We spent New Year’s eve in Looe, firstly watching the waves on the beach and taking a wander around, and then eating fish and chips and watching evening fireworks over the sea – the only fireworks we saw and heard that evening. It was  all in good spirit with lots of locals dressed up and heading for the pubs. It was a nice way to spend New Year’s eve with the children, despite the rain.

And then on the 1st January my husband and I received an SMS from BurgerNet which informed us that a firework bomb had gone off at 5am that morning, damaging six houses. And

the really good news was that it was in our street. There are less than twenty houses in our street, so the damage rate was pretty high.

My husband contacted a neighbour and we learnt which houses had been hit and ours was not one of them. Our direct neighbours lost two windows. Our house was lucky to go unscathed. Those that were not so lucky spent the first day of the new year getting over the shock of their children being woken up by glass shattering over them whilst they slept, talking to the police and then clearing up glass from their homes. They are now busy with insurance inspectors and claims. Their windows are boarded up or replaced temporarily with emergency glass. It’s a miracle no one was injured. One family has temporarily lost their home. Happy new year huh?

This type of act is exactly why we weren’t there, and I am glad my children were spared the scare. It is a strange thing, New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands. I don’t understand it, even after thirteen years here, and I am guessing I never will get my head around the destruction and violence that occurs when a new year is welcomed in.

It seems that there is a lawlessness that doesn’t happen at any other time of the year, and one that is accepted. Every year the headlines run the same on the 1st January. Every year I am amazed that celebrations that leave 69 cars burnt out in The Hague are termed as ‘relatively quiet’.  There is always some political uproar and calls for fireworks to be banned, but that all dies a death by the end of the first week of January and it all repeats at the end of the year.

Thankfully this is not the usual way to see in a new year. For example American Mom in Bordeaux tells about her celebrations in France: “We have a nice multi-course dinner with friends or family, including regional specialities – we even did this in the States (as my husband is French). Our kids & their friends eat earlier and play quietly until midnight when we all toast in the New Year!”

Rita Rosenback explains that traditions in Finland involve melting tin, as well as the more traditional use of fireworks.

Jonathan of Dad’s the Way I Like It explains,

“Here in the UK there’s a massive fireworks display in London at New Year and I think that there are smaller displays in quite a few cities. In our rural village in North Wales, we heard a few fireworks going off just after midnight as well.”

And of course, in the Netherlands too, most people do know how to have a good time on New Year’s Eve without turning to the sort of destruction that so irks the majority. Juliette describes how the Dutch traditionally welcome in a new year,

“We bake and eat “oliebollen“. At midnight everyone wishes everyone happy new year, while drinking champagne, usually a lot of phonecalls are made and a lot of texting is going on. Then we go outside and light fireworks or just looks at the firework in the neighbourhood.”

Kelley tells how she misses the Dutch new year celebrations,

“We left the Netherlands 2 years ago after living in the Maastricht area for 6 years and LOVED New Years there. We lived across the street from a bar and they would spend a TON of money on fireworks so it was crazy for hours in our street but cheap on our pocketbook. We live in Poland now and they fireworks here too but nothing to the extreme there!”

Wherever you are, I hope you had a fun filled New Year’s Eve and I wish you all every happiness for 2014.
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