Why was the man pushing his bicycle instead of riding it? He had a 6 foot Christmas tree strapped to the bike and he was apparently taking it home. “Welcome to the Netherlands!” That is what I said to myself when I saw this scene last week. I am sure that was not the only tree carried home on a bicycle this year.

In the Netherlands, Christmas is very similar to an American Christmas. The major difference is that rarely are presents given at Christmas, their focus is on the time spent with family. A lot of time and money is spent on food for the special meals. But the decorations in homes and stores, are like the ones in America.

On the other hand, New Year’s Eve is a different kettle of fish. The focus of a new year’s celebration is fireworks. This is not a light show done by a town or city, these fireworks are lit by individuals in front of their homes. And it is all legal.

Fireworks may only be sold for three days before December 31 at only a few licensed locations. You can make your selections online and then pick the items up during these three days. An average family spends hundreds of euros each year on fireworks. Many colorful circulars arrive that are  full of all types of things to blast from your front or back yard.  Children and adults pour over these pages and start making wish lists many weeks in advance.

The Netherlands is famous for having very strict regulations concerning fireworks, and that increases the prices. It is an understatement to say that this is big, big business—we are talking millions and millions of euros.

It is illegal to buy fireworks before December 29 and it is illegal to have fireworks in your possession at any other time of the year. Last year, police seized 80,000 kilos of fireworks before New Year’s Eve. Safety is a big concern here, just last year two teenagers were killed while setting off their fireworks.

The other big thing about this night and New Year’s Day are the special edible treats. There is the oliebollen-it is a fried dough ball made with or without raisins and served with iced sugar. Also popular is the appelbeignet or appelflap which is saucer shaped with sliced apple inside with a little bit of cinnamon, with sugar sprinkled on the outside. The thing that is tough to deal with is that these gems are only sold during the last few weeks of December and they then disappear until next year. There are outside stalls throughout the country that only sell these pastries and people cannot wait for them to open. As you walk along the towns or cities, you can smell the oliebollen before you see the stall. Your nose leads you to this little corner of heaven and  you  will smile when you walk away with a bag full of sweetness.

So there you have it…it is a night of explosions and fabulous colors, in all the neighborhoods in the Netherlands. And it is not about cheese, it is not about chocolate, it is all about fabulous baked goods. Light up the sky, eat some sugar, drink champagne and toast the new year…Dutch style.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve in Utrecht

Recommended viewing:  there are many films that have New Year’s Eve scenes, but there are two fun films that come to mind, right away:  When Harry met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.  Two wonderful romantic comedies and a good way to start the new year.

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  • Aledys Ver  On December 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    The New Year celebration in NL is not that different from that in Argentina. Over there, fireworks take centre of the stage on 31 December over there, too. The big difference is that while here everything is regulated (even though of course, there are fireworks sold illegally) while in Argentina … not so much. Last Christmas, more that 200 people were injured by fireworks.
    Strict regulations concerning fiereworks in NL are -I think- the direct consequence of the Enschede fireworks disaster of 2000. I wonder if people in Enschede are still using fireworks to welcome the New Year after the horrible experience they had?

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