Like any other culture, the Dutch have their own way of celebrating New Year’s Eve (NYE). If you’re celebrating NYE in the Netherlands for the first time, you might find some Dutch New Year traditions familiar and others completely strange.
Read on to learn more about how the Dutchies celebrate the New Year (Oud en Nieuw).
How the Dutch Celebrate New Year
First off, why is it called Oud en Nieuw? Well, the festivities begin on Oudejaarsavond (New Year’s Eve) on December 31st and finish off on Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year’s Day) on January 1st. The duration of the festivities depends on the participants. For example, family celebrations usually start with a family dinner and last till 12 midnight or even the following day. For groups of friends, it may mean stepping out together to grab a beer and view fireworks displays, and then everybody heads home afterward.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular Dutch New Year traditions.
As you might know, the Dutch eat very early when compared to other nations. Dinner usually takes place around 6 p.m. and New Year’s Eve is no exception.
It all begins with the family dinner. During Christmas, dinners are more formal affairs. People dress up, and it’s not uncommon to sit down to a 3-, 5- or even 7-course dinner at home or at a restaurant. New Year’s Eve dinners are more casual affairs because it’s more or less expected that people will be together till at least 12 midnight – so enter gourmetten.
Gourmetten is more relaxed because the host doesn’t have to cook! A small electrical device is placed in the middle of the table, and everyone has their own designated little pan or mini wok to use. The table is then loaded with various uncooked vegetables and meats – all cut into bite-sized portions, of course – and then everyone just sorts of digs in. Grab what you want, cook it, and then slather it with any of the various sauces the host(s) place on the table.
Gourmetten is a very fun activity, especially when you’re in a group of four people or more. It takes a few minutes for the food on the little pans to cook, so there’s plenty of time to talk and laugh.
2. Family Games (Familiespellen)
Of course, no matter how gezellig (cozy) gourmetten is, it doesn’t last till 12 midnight. So how do people pass the time? They play games. After dinner, the table is cleared, and all manner of game boards and family games come out of their cabinets.
3. The Top 2000
Don’t be surprised to hear the Top 2000 in the background during dinner and while playing family games.
Every year, the Dutch radio station NPO Radio 2 runs a poll asking the Dutch public what they consider the best songs of all time. The voting takes place sometime in late November or early December, and the Top 2000 songs voted are then played from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve.
The Top 2000 started in 1999 and was meant to be a one-time thing. However, it became so popular that it’s now a yearly tradition of NPO Radio 2 to hold the poll and a yearly tradition of the Dutchies to listen to it.
The Dutch love their vuurwerk (fireworks). Traditionally, people were only allowed to light (some type of) fireworks three days before January 1st. However, not everyone follows that, so it’s not uncommon to hear the occasional loud bang from Christmas Day onwards.
In some Dutch provinces, there’s a fireworks tradition called carbid schieten (milk can shooting). Traditionally, calcium carbide is placed inside an empty milk can. Water is then added to release a gas known as ethyne. After a few seconds, the developing ethyne is ignited through a small hole (or with a spark plug), which then bursts with a large booming sound, throwing the lid as far away as possible.
Since carbid schieten uses milk cans, you can deduce that the origins of this “firework” are farmlands. However, it’s becoming more and more popular because of traditional fireworks being forbidden in from 2020/2021 until 2022/2023. However, carbid schieten didn’t fall under that ban, so many people turned to it.
When there’s no ban, you can buy crackers nearly everywhere. In fact, even supermarkets carry some low-grade fireworks as NYE comes closer.
5. Oliebollen and Appelflappen
Did you know that the origin of the donut is the oliebol? Yep, Dutch settlers brought it with them to New York in the 18th century. An oliebol (literally, oil ball) is fried sweet dough, and it’s a Dutch New Year tradition to eat them on NYE.
In recent years, oliebollen are sold as early as the first week of December. Variations have also come up too in recent years in the form of krentebollen (oliebol with raisins), appel oliebollen (oliebol with apples), and noten oliebollen (oliebol with nuts).
Making oliebollen is also a neighborhood tradition. That is, instead of buying them, a few families in the neighborhood might decide to get together and fry one big batch for everyone to consume.
What about the appelflappen (apple turnovers or apple fritters)? These are recent additions to the oliebollen tradition. I deduce that it’s because some people find oliebollen quite heavy and want a “lighter” fried dough to eat.
6. New Year Dive (Nieuwjaarsduik)
New year, fresh start – the Dutchies take this to heart and thus have come up with a freezing tradition, the Nieuwjaarsduik. On January 1st, as if to wash away the previous year, brave Dutchies find a lake or beach, strip down to their swimming clothes and dip themselves in the freezing cold water.
The biggest event can be found in Scheveningen. Since 1965, it’s been a favorite Nieuwjaarsduik destination, with about 10,000 people gathering to run and dip themselves in the freezing cold sea for a few seconds to a few minutes. After that, you can run back to the shore and get some clothes, grab a beer, a glass of wine, a mug of hot chocolate, erwtensoep (Dutch pea soup), or anything else that can warm you up!
How to Survive the Dutch New Year
You’re new to the Netherlands, and you’ve been graciously invited to a Dutch New Year’s Eve get-together. Great! The above Dutch New Year traditions list should already tell you what to expect, but what should you do to make a good impression and have a good time? Here are some tips.
The Dutchies always appreciate thoughtful guests, so it’s best if you can bring something for your hosts. You can’t go wrong with these gift suggestions: a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, or an extra bag of oliebollen or appelflappen. If budget permits, a bottle of champagne is also a good idea.
At exactly 12 midnight, everyone will start wishing each other a Happy New Year by saying Gelukkig Nieuwjaar. And by this, I mean everyone will start to greet everyone, from the oldest family member to the youngest. The manner of greeting usually includes the Dutch three kisses, although some people prefer to shake hands.
Go with the flow
Familiar or strange, Dutch New Year traditions are really no different in spirit from the rest of the world. Dutchies want to mark the coming of the New Year with loved ones with as much joy and food and drink as possible. So my final suggestion if you’re invited to a Dutch NYE party is this: go with the flow. Enjoy the old, embrace the new and have fun!