The centre of Leiden is supposedly ‘fireworks free’. Despite this, we’ve been hearing booms almost nightly at our house since October. We’ve even had a few firework displays worthy of Disneyland Paris.
If you haven’t already lived through a Dutch New Year’s Eve, you’d better get ready for one (or several) sleepless nights in the week leading up to 31 December. The nation’s infatuation with novelty explosives runs deep. Mangling hands with cherry bombs and attacking emergency workers on New Year’s Eve with mortar shells have become cherished traditions.
Longtime residents of fireworks free zones in Leiden and in other communities around the country who are unwilling to join the annual anarchy will once again huddle in their homes like weary Londoners during the Blitz.
They’ll attempt to keep their pets from coming down with shell shock and try and fail to tune out the fracas with ample amounts of champagne, oliebollen, and/or the Top 2000 cranked up to volumes worthy of Slipknot’s last European tour.
A few days ago, we got a flyer about the fireworks ban in Leiden with a message from the mayor pleading with everyone to respect the rules. It won’t make a lick of difference. Neither will signs posted around the city or the occasional fireworks bust.
New Year’s Eve itself will no doubt provide hours of ‘entertainment’ beginning well before dusk and concluding well past dawn. Around midnight, thousands will gather in the city’s squares and along its canals to put on a show that will be louder than fifteen Fourth of Julys and at least three Guy Fawkes Nights.
There will be so much sulphuric smoke that it will seep through our windows and stink up our living room. The smell will linger for at least a day or two. But thank God we don’t live in Amsterdam or Rotterdam where things are even crazier on December 31.
Nowhere to hide
I recently spoke to a cook who was born and raised in the Netherlands who hates fireworks. She stays indoors with her husband and young daughter on the 31st. The glass window on the bike shed of their apartment building was sealed up in early December. If not, it would have been blown to bits by Pakjesavond.
One of her coworkers who’s only lived here for a short while listened with wide eyed fascination as I told them about the time two small children gleefully threw firecrackers at my feet in the Jordaan while their drunken parents watched. The pyromania isn’t limited to just fireworks either. Videos of the ‘cinder storm’ that rolled across Scheveningen in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2019 after a calamitous celebration still look like something out of a disaster film.
And you can run but you cannot hide from all this, at least not within the borders of the Netherlands. A colleague of mine rented a house on the edges of the Veluwe last year to avoid the annual hell in Haarlem. She and her husband were up all night listening to the booms of exploding milk churns.
A former coworker used to blow his entire annual holiday bonus on fireworks. He’d drive down to Belgium and fill his car with an arsenal capable of taking down both the Avengers and the Justice League.
There are many full grown men (let’s be honest, it’s 99% dudes who are into this crap) just like him in the Netherlands. There’s a good chance you live within 20 yards of one. I do.
By sunset on the 31st, this self appointed Oppenheimer will declare war on his immediate surroundings…and your sanity. He’ll be ringing in the New Year, and making your ears ring, by celebrating the traditions of this country as he destroys a small part of it.
Is it any wonder 53% of women fear heading outdoors on New Year’s Eve? RTL Nieuws recently reported they’re afraid of being injured by fireworks. Only 29% of men said the same.
No stopping what cannot be stopped
In the week following the holiday, the media will once again tally up the damage done to people and property. Officials in stadhuizen all the way from Maastricht to Den Helder will wring their hands and say they did all they could. Journalists will point to opinion surveys calling for further crackdowns. A nationwide ban will be briefly discussed and quickly forgotten.
Then the whole process will repeat itself again in 2025, 2026, 2027, and until the end of time itself. During the heat death of the universe, there will probably be a Dutch guy floating in the deep vastness of space, cackling madly as he attempts to light the fuse on a roman candle.
The reasons why this keeps happening are complex. Politicians claim there isn’t enough popular support for a full ban. Even if there was a ban, the police say they don’t have enough personnel to enforce it.
But even a million Robocops couldn’t put the kibosh on the annual hootenanny. Much like many Americans and their endless infatuation with firearms despite all the chaos they create, you’ll never convince a large segment of the Dutch public to give up their fireworks.
You’d have to pry them out of their cold, dead hands. Should that happen, at least there will be less than ten fingers to contend with.
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