New Year Celebrations in the Netherlands are unlike any other that I have celebrated elsewhere in the world.
The nature of the celebrations has changed over the 18 years I have been here. My first European New Year was spent visiting Scotland, and I was a bit dazed about the celebrations as I was in total shock with the discovery that it was possible to have a winter’s day where the daytime temperatures remained well below zero the whole day.
I of course realised it would be Winter in Europe at Christmas (as opposed to Summer Christmases in New Zealand that I was used to), but this was not cold as I knew cold. More than just the snow and sub-zero temperatures it was the constant howling wind that bit into you and cut to the bone even though I was trying hard to layer up by wearing the entire contents of my suitcase.
It was already passed New Year once I got back to The Netherlands and so I was well settled into Dutch culture by the time the next Christmas and New Year rolled around. Or so I thought.
The rude awakening arrived around the beginning of December, in the shape of teenage boys throwing fire crackers on to the pavement of the local shopping street. I had already walked past them, a prime target unawares.
I never saw them with crackers before it happened, but the smirks on their faces afterwards told me everything I needed to know afterwards. They let them off directly behind me and I jumped visibly (scrape me off that passing cloud someone please). I learned fast and in subsequent winter outings I was on the watch for the kids who tried to scare the living daylights out of as many people as possible.
Back then, Police could only give them a lecture for being a nuisance and tell them to move on, but once the situation had escalated to the point where the beginning of December marked the entry into what Himself called ” Little Beirut season” fireworks were being let off at all hours of the day and night the Government took things in hand.
Not just little crackers either, but very very loud ones that literally made your windows rattle and scared the living daylights out of small children, the elderly and reduced animals to quivering wrecks.
Even worse were the “knallers or knallerjes” which are line a string of tens, hundreds or thousands of little crackers all joined up and they go off in quick succession and ofen have a larger firework in the centre that gets set off last with an almighty bang.
Eventually a new law with hefty instant fines was passed limiting the fireworks to just the hours directly before New Years. In the years following the law, a game of cat-and-mouse emerged where kids would let off loud fireworks and then scarper as soon as possible before the Police arrived.
The police retaliated by increasing their numbers on the streets and with constant patrols. They had the upper hand for a few years more, but I think that mobile phones have given the kids more warning to the police whereabouts, so recent years saw an increase in unexpected booms and bangs in the streets.
The Police responded by ditching the conspicuous squad cars and getting the officers out on their bikes (we often see Police officers on their bikes in the Summer) and I assume that their success rate has soared using this maneuver since there have been relatively few of these noisy nasty surprises in recent weeks.
On Friday 31st December 2010, mid-morning however, as usual for New Years… all of that changed. The bang of crackers started slow, got loud, then died down early afternoon.
As soon as darkness falls, the rockets and firecrackers start to go off… the Police are now just keeping an eye on things and there are no fines, because with midnight some four to five hours away, fireworks at a reasonable level are permitted.
These fireworks are usually families with young children who with the fall of darkness are having an “early” New Year with their kids before the little ones go to bed. … and Yes, I can personally attest to that fact that our young children have slept completely through the later fireworks noise… an rather amazing feat if you know the true volume of the din.
Before the children were born, Himself and I walked from his old apartment towards the centre of the city at midnight and a few streets away discovered a bonfire in the street more than one “story” high, that was fast getting a little too large for the space it was in.
The Police had been called to come and monitor the situation because the windows of nearby houses were getting rather warm. The bonfire consisted of a mass of discarded Christmas trees… and this kind of “recycling” was popular throughout the Netherlands. The trouble with old fashioned Dutch city streets is that they don’t tend to be very wide, so these bonfires often kept the Fire Bridge busy all night.
These days the city councils do a special collection of many Christmas trees at the end of December to avoid too many bonfires.
We haven’t seen Christmas Tree bonfires in our neighbourhood for the 15 years we have lived in this neighbourhood, so it was with a little misgiving that I spied one near the end of our street.
Luckily the neighbours responsible for it had done some planning, the fire was a small one, set up in the middle of our narrow street.
They had a bevy of responsible adults on hand, fire extinguishers galore in case of unforeseen flareups and all the cars had been removed from the adjacent parking spaces to make a proper space without damaging anything.
They also had between them a massive amount of fireworks, and had set up a whole kid free area and special ‘stands” from which to fire the rockets etc.
They know who they are,as I say “Thank You” to them for providing me with some excellent material to video from my upstairs perch.
Himself went onto the street to set off our small installment of fireworks, we chose just a few ” pretty” ones because our kids are scared of the big booming ones.
Little Mr. was desperate this year to “be a big boy” and stay up and watch the New Year kick in, but wilted into slumber at 10.00pm so I let him sleep until just before midnight and then woke him up.
It was hard work getting him to wake up… in his weariness he resisted being woken, in spite of his desire to take part. Eventually he managed to prise himself into wakefulness and he was most proud to have achieved his “First” real staying up for Firework New Year.
Just before midnight there was a lull in the firework din… then as the clock strikes 12.00 it’s sounds like a war zone. Fireworks that you see in the videos below are only in our small street.
This scene is repeated in every street in the Netherlands. Since my crutches bind me upstairs on the couch with the camera you only get to hear a fraction of the noise though the double-glass window panes. It’s deafening outside.
I took these photos and video’s over a two hour period, the pauses were very few so that’s a LOT of fireworks.
Fortunately the snow of recent days has disappeared so people are out partying in the street by the bonfire.
My limited options for seating in the living room in proximity to the window means that some of the camera angles are a little strange, please forgive that and bear with me…
PLEASE NOTE: Please be advised that some of the following video clips show fireworks that produce a flashes and very blight lights somewhat similar in effect to strobe lighting. I know that for some people strobe effect lighting poses a health problem and don’t want anyone to be caught unawares.
These next two photos show rockets heading skywards, I managed to get photos with their tracer like departure…
The sky is thick with smoke as Fireworks go off…
Very bright fireworks (also depicted in photo 3rd from top)
The noisy ones… a small “knaller”…
Above the rooftops on the opposite side of the street…
Himself sets off one of ours.. I forget that the video can’t flip to upright, so you’ll have to crink your neck..
More aerial brilliance…
Combination of another small “knaller”, a very bright firework and a series of rockets going up with their tracer trails…
So, That’s my introduction for you into Dutch New Year celebrations. Believe it or not, the volume of fireworks has been reduced this year due to the general economic downturn. In previous years it have been much much louder.
However how loudly or quietly you celebrated the stroke of midnight, I hope that you welcomed in the New Year and that 2011 proves to be an excellent year for you. HAPPY NEW YEAR!