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Practical Advice: How to Celebrate New Year in the Netherlands

Starting the year with a bang

Every country has its own way of celebrating the New Year. A new year means a fresh new start with new opportunities, and the Dutch have their own way of celebrating. Although most traditions are similar to other countries and cultures, the way the people of the Netherlands experience New Year's Eve is a bit different from what you might be used to. If you decide to celebrate the New Year with your friends the Dutch way, this is handy guide will help you.

New Year's Eve in the Netherlands doesn't really start until around 6 p.m., because from then on you are allowed to set off fireworks. Fireworks play a big part in Dutch New Year celebrations. The moment the clock strikes 12, hundreds of rockets will light up the sky as far as the eye can see. These are the larger rockets, but people also use other forms of fireworks on a much smaller scale. It is not unusual to hear firecrackers popping in the streets. In the north, east and south of the country people do rifle shooting instead of setting off fireworks, shooting the lid of a milk can, which gives a very loud bang. This happens mostly in rural areas and less so in cities.

Be responsible with fireworks

People of all ages set off fireworks. 'Fop and jest' fireworks, such as starlets and poppers (also called Fireworks category F1), are allowed all year round. These fireworks may be bought by anyone aged 12 and above throughout the year. The so-called 'consumer fireworks' are sold at licensed outlets and (category F2) may only be set off 31 December from 18:00 to 02:00 on 1 January by people aged 16 and over. The municipality of Apeldoorn has banned the use of consumer fireworks in the city and is organising fireworks shows instead. If you don't celebrate New Year's Eve in Apeldoorn, but in a city where consumer fireworks are allowed and you are planning to buy fireworks, consider that there are some regulations. Rules around buying fireworks can be found on this page of the Dutch government website. Some fireworks are banned entirely because they are too dangerous (category F3). What kind of fireworks are prohibited can be found here. Be careful with illegal fireworks, as having them in your possession is already a criminal offence. The minimum fine you can get is €100 and a criminal record. Depending on the fireworks offence, the fines or penalties can be considerably higher. You can find a Dutch guide here how to recognise legal fireworks.

The tradition of fireworks is under discussion. Fireworks are not without risk, as they cause large numbers of serious injuries every year. The victims are not only those who light the touchpaper themselves, but also bystanders. It is advised to walk carefully down the street and keep a safe distance of at least 8 metres (or 26 feet) from someone setting off fireworks. Last year, despite a fireworks ban due to the corona pandemic, there were 778 fireworks victims. Almost half of the victims did not light anything themselves but were hit by someone else's fireworks. If you set off fireworks yourself, it is advisable to use safety glasses to protect your eyes. If you are injured, GP surgeries are often open day and night on New Year's Eve, and ambulance staff are on hand to help.

Oliebollen and champagne

If you don't like fireworks at all, no worries. Much of New Year's Eve takes place indoors. As you have noticed, the Netherlands is known for its rainy and cold winters, the nights are long and the days are short and people tend to move the festivities to their living rooms. In the Netherlands, it is traditional to celebrate New Year's Eve with family and friends. This is often done at home, with oliebollen (a traditional Dutch yeast dough dish with currants or sultanas) and/or appelbeignets and (savoury) snacks eaten and drunk after dinner. Just before the end of the year, everyone counts down the last 10 seconds. The new year is celebrated with champagne, and the bottle is usually opened with the cork flying out to literally start the year with a bang. 

It is worth remembering that 31 December is not an official holiday in the Netherlands, but 1 January is. No mail is delivered on this day, and public transport is different or sometimes not available at all from 6 a.m. on New Year's Eve until the next day. When you travel by bus or train around New Year's Eve, make sure you check the timetable beforehand. It is no fun being stranded in the middle of nowhere on a Dutch winter night.

Now that you understand the Dutch culture of celebrating New Year's Eve, Wittenborg wishes everyone a happy and safe New Year and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2023.

WUP 30/12/2022
by Niels Otterman
©WUAS Press