New Year’s Eve in The Netherlands. I’m not sure how to tackle explaining this night, because if I were in America I would just grab friends by the shoulders and scream “The fireworks! Jesus H. Christ, the fireworks!” with a terrified glint in my eye. To say fireworks are enjoyed in this country is a gross understatement yet I can’t seem to find an overstatement fitting enough. Dutch folk spent around 65 million euros (about $100 million) on fireworks this past year, according to recent estimates. That may not sound crazy until you consider the size of this country relative to America and the fact that they can only legally buy fireworks during the three days before New Year’s. And apparently that number is quite low compared to previous years.
Dutch folk aren’t buying just buying sparklers - they go for the big guns, arrows exploding in the sky, powerful firecrackers (which shake apartment buildings when tossed into sewage lines), and other things you wouldn’t want near your hands. I went for a run the morning of New Year’s Eve and ran into quite a few tweens on the bikes with bags from the pop-up firework shops over their shoulders. Some even stopped before they got home to let off a few bangs and pows along the canals - they couldn’t wait. Fireworks have been going off all week, no matter day or night, but the worst was New Year’s Eve when the kids were up before the sun begging parents to let them set fire to explosives in the parking lot. So much for sleeping in! Despite some bad hip-hop on my iPod, my run was peppered with near and distant explosions while I inhaled sulfuric smoke from mortars and rockets. The cows I jog past didn’t seem to care, though the ducks were absent from their usual spot along my route. And this was all before 10 a.m. The evening’s display was something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convey other than to say it’s most likely similar to what Baghdad residents experienced during the shock and awe of March 2003 without the purposeless death and destruction. The fireworks went off non-stop, all around the city. Breda seemed like a bad nightclub, with colorful blinking lights from fireworks against the smoke-filled sky. I couldn’t help but wile out with our friends at the party since being surrounded by heart-shaking explosions just makes one want to run around a bit and scream, taking care not to spill the champagne.
A more adorable experience happened after the clock struck midnight. Never have I been around folks counting down in a different language and while it’s obvious they wouldn’t count down in English, it was one of those moments that remind you that you’re in a different place - far from home. In America when the ball drops we pop the bubbly and yell “Happy New Year!” and get back to drinking and dancing. Here in The Netherlands people take a moment to congratulate each person in the room with a handshake and/or the obligatory (and overkill) three kisses. I’m serious - every single person. I stood around watching in awe as the nearly 25 people in this tiny apartment bumbled about the living room saying “gelukkig nieuw jaar.” Dutch people complain that Americans our over-polite and insincere and I say Dutch people can be just as much so with their bourgeois kisses, but in this moment I felt a real sense of hope and congratulations among this group of 20-somethings. There’s always a hopeful feeling at the beginning of a new year and once my head cleared from that inevitable champagne headache, I felt it too.