Happy New Year from Holland!

Ah – the New Year. The practice of leaving the old behind and ushering in an era of new beginnings. When you say it like this, it sounds calm and peaceful, right?

Not if you’re in the Netherlands.

Ok – so maybe my video isn’t that dramatic but it surely felt dramatic!

Notice that constant low rumbling in the background? That’s the sound of non-stop fireworks being set off in gardens, in the middle of the street, in parks, and in trashcans all over the city.

And do you notice that (despite the fog) you can’t actually SEE any pretty firework lights? That’s because it’s not about what you see, it’s about blowin’ sh*t up.

Let’s back up a little.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day in the Netherlands, aptly called ‘Oud & Nieuw’ (Old & New), is the one day of the year where fireworks are legal.

Correction: the one 8 hour period of time where fireworks are legal.

From 6pm – 2am all bets are off. You know that horror movie ‘The Purge’, where for 24 hours crime is legal? This is how that feels – minus the burglary and murder.

I started to type ‘vandalism and bodily harm’ in that list, but I couldn’t in good faith. This year a man and child were killed in a firework-related fire, and they are still counting injuries and tallying damage costs.

In 2018, citizens of the Netherlands spent 70 MILLION euros in total on fireworks. And to reiterate, that can be used LEGALLY for 8 hours.

They can be purchased at shops like the one below, which we can only assume make enough money in the month leading up to Oud & Nieuw that it can afford to be closed the other 11 months of the year. In addition to shops like these, you can buy fireworks in the home improvement stores or online. Granted, some types of fireworks are still illegal to purchase, but no worries. If you want the big boys you can just pop on over to Germany and bring back what you want.

“Always the lowest price!”

Like I said before, technically it’s only legal to set off fireworks during the designated time, but let’s be real, this doesn’t stop people from starting earlier. Each day after Christmas the booms increase, culminating in the ‘main show’ which starts at midnight and rings (booms?) in the new year.

If they are illegal, how can people start so early? Two words.

No enforcement.

Until you’re blowing up trashcans and bus stops (yes, that really happens) then the police will leave you alone.

Between 2 trashcans is a logical place to set off fireworks, right?

One thing that IS highly enforced are the ‘Vuurwerk-vrije’ (firework free) zones. For example, we live directly across from the main hospital where, for obvious reasons, they don’t want firework chaos. There was a constant patrol of people making sure these zones truly stayed ‘firework free’.

I made Meatball her own firework free zone.

This year, to add an additional level of danger and mystique, the temperature dropped quickly and a thick fog set it. You really had to pay attention to where you were walking!

Fireworks over city center in the fog.

Because we live in the city center, we only witnessed smaller displays. As you might imagine, the further away from the city center you get the larger the show and the bigger the fire.

Yes, this brings me to my next Oud & Nieuw tradition. Bonfires.

The photo above was from our first Dutch Oud & Nieuw in 2014, but you get the picture. Bonfires in the street.

Bikes. Christmas trees. Furniture. Whatever-your-heart-desires.

Burn it.

My dad asked the reasonable question “So does the fire-department work all night then?”. Short answer: no. They just let it burn.

We did discover a leftover bonfire the next day though, on what I liked to call our “survey the damage” walk around the neighborhood.

Notice the street sign in the pile…

And, unrelated to fireworks but also an Oud & Nieuw tradition, olliebollen!

Had to have our friend, Kaitlin, try them!

I would describe olliebollen (literally translated to ‘oil balls’) as a giant deep-fried donut hole, traditionally made with or without raisins and dunked in powdered sugar. They are available starting mid-November, but the bulk of the olliebollen are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

As evidenced by the line that wouldn’t stop growing…

So, my DOs & DONTs for Oud & Nieuw?

DO: Get to the olliebollen stand early! I suggest the ones with raisins.

DON’T: Wear a nice coat out. Firework-induced burn holes are a thing.

DO: Come prepared! Arm yourself with sparklers & firecrackers. You never know when you might need them.

DON’T: Be indoors at midnight! Embrace the chaos!

and finally…

DON’T: Expect to sleep that night. In America, the main party is the lead up to midnight, and here all the parties start at the earliest 10pm and most at midnight. Bars & parties not your thing? No worries, the fireworks last well past their 2am cutoff. They will be sure to interrupt your sleep. ūüėČ

Happy New Year from us to you!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

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We are two Americans living in the Netherlands with our fat cat, Meatball. The Shwits is a diary of our time abroad!

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