Monday, December 29, 2008

Batten Down the Hatches - New Year Celebrations in the Netherlands

The rubbish bins have been removed, the slots on the postboxes are barely wide enough to get a letter through and there are suspicious burn marks on all manner of roadside objects. Plus of course, the ritual daily bangs for the past two months.

Yes, it's that time of year again - New Year is approaching.

The Dutch are allowed to set off fireworks legally on one day of the year only. New Year's Eve. Fireworks can be lit between 10am on the 31st December until 2am on New Year's Day.(Organised firework displays with a permit are allowed for the rest of the year).

The fact that it is broad daylight at 10am on any given day in the Netherlands does not deter the fireworks being sent rocketing into the sky the second the clock turns ten. Seems like blowing money up to me, which is at odds with the reputation the Dutch have for being 'careful with their money' (or in plain English stingy).

If you ban something for 364 days of the year, you are of course asking for trouble on the one day it is allowed. And so it is in the Netherlands with fireworks and New Year's Eve. Lock up your cats, hide your dogs, sellotape your letterboxes and put your earplugs in.

In the build up to New Year (i.e. from October onwards) the 'criminal' buyers are already setting off fireworks, usually bought illegally in neighbouring Belgium, and blowing up bins, children's playground equipment and postboxes. Hence, two weeks before the big day, everything is battened down, removed or firework proofed.

For the entire day on the 31st December the noise does not stop. Leaving the house is risking life and limb. Stepping out of the front door with fireworks sailing past your head is certainly one way to see the old year out... and there is always the question of whether you will be in one piece to see the new year in. Life on the edge in the Netherlands.

For the rest of the Dutch population who actually save their fireworks for midnight, and set the skies alight in style, the tradition of fireworks at New Year is a fun and treasured one. It is a great excuse to gather together in the streets and "ooh" and "aah" at the sky. And of course, for the spectators it is all free entertainment; the key to Dutch happiness.

As this is my last post of 2008, I wish a very happy 2009 to all of you.

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