New Year festivities in the Netherlands

26 November 2018
door Regina Coeli

December is a month of festivities in the Netherlands. It all starts with St. Nicholas which is celebrated by young and old. But almost as soon as he has weighed anchor and set sail for Spain in his trusted steamboat, the Dutch are making plans for Christmas and the New Year. Whereas Christmas is generally a more intimate celebration when families get together for a festive meal, New Year’s celebrations are much more exuberant. How do you survive New Year’s Eve and the countless New Year’s drinks parties that are held in January? 


On the last day of the old year, you could say that a light form of anarchy takes over and the Dutch streets are no longer safe. From 10 a.m. onwards, anyone at all is allowed to set off fireworks. Groups of children wander the streets with plastic bags full of fireworks that make lots of noise. They set them off continuously and indiscriminately, one after the other. Those who do not need to be outside would much rather stay in. They busy themselves making ‘oliebollen’ (a deep-fried dough-and-raisin ball a bit like a doughnut but without the hole!) or apple fritters. Lots of Dutch towns and villages organise New Year’s Eve parties but most people prefer to celebrate at home. What goes on in the average Dutch home on New Year’s Eve?

Dutch homeliness

During the evening of 31 December and as the final hours of the old year tick by, families settle down to play board games or any other kind of game. On the table, there is an enormous plate of ‘oliebollen’. The games are put aside for a moment to watch the traditional New Year’s Eve entertainment on television. A stand-up comedian summarises the events of the year gone by and makes fun of the various news items, the people involved and the Dutch way of life in general. The champagne bottle stands as yet unopened on the sideboard because everyone has to have their wits about them to keep up with all the jokes. It would be a shame to miss anything! Watching this New Year’s Eve entertainment would be good practice for anyone who already has a good smattering of Dutch.

Ringing in the New Year

The closer it gets to midnight, the more restless people become: the champagne is standing ready and everyone’s eyes are on the hands of the clock. The moment arrives, the clock strikes midnight. A toast is proposed to the New Year and then everyone rushes outside for the main event: setting off fireworks. In no time at all, incredible quantities of fireworks explode into the night sky. For the 2012 New Year’s celebrations, the Dutch bought an incredible 70 million euros worth of fireworks. Unfortunately, setting off fireworks is never totally incident free: while ringing in the New Year in 2012, more than six hundred people ended up in Accident and Emergency. The best way of making sure you greet the following morning in the land of the living is to steer clear of the fireworks.

An ice-cold dip in Dutch waters

And then comes ‘the day after’. Some people are real dare-devils and choose to go for a New Year’s dip. In icy temperatures, they rush into the sea or a lake and then come out again feeling reborn and ready to face the year ahead. Most people, however, start the day peacefully, perhaps watching television (for instance, the ski-jumping in Garmisch-Partenkirchen) or going to visit relations.

Toasting the New Year

The first time you see family, friends or colleagues in the New Year, it is tradition to wish each other ‘Happy New Year’. Some say that you can do this until 6 January which is the Feast of the Three Kings, but in practice the period goes on for much longer. Many New Year’s receptions and drinks parties actually take place in the second half of January. Municipalities, clubs and work colleagues toast the New Year and, in so doing, strengthen their relationships. At these do’s, the food is always good, so why would you avoid going? In the right frame of mind, a New Year’s reception can be surprisingly pleasant. Here are few tips:

  • You don’t have to wish everybody a Happy New Year, but it can be a good opening line;
  • There is absolutely no rule that says you have to kiss everybody at a New Year’s reception. You can also just shake hands;
  • No conversation? Why not reminisce on what you have achieved together in the year gone by or share ideas for the coming year;
  • If you’ve drawn the short straw and have to give the New Year’s speech, keep it short! The purpose of a reception is for people to mingle and chat.

We hope you enjoy ringing in the New Year!

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