Explosive Traditions:

A Look at The New Years Eve Fireworks Tradition in The Netherlands

By Ornella Durand | Metro City | December 16, 2021

Cover Illustration: Fireworks in Amsterdam 2018. Leo Patrizi / Unsplash

Metro reporter Ornella Durand sheds light on the motivations behind a renewed ban on fireworks in the Netherlands for New Year’s Eve.


For the second year running, the Dutch Government has placed a ban on New Year’s fireworks in the Netherlands. The Rijksoverheid recently announced this measure which prohibits the use and sale of fireworks for private use. Fireworks falling into the F1 category, such as sparklers, are still permitted for use.

The ban comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Netherlands are increasing, resulting in the implementation of many new measures as well as the tightening of pre-existing ones.

New Year’s fireworks in the Netherlands represent a long-standing tradition. It is not uncommon for firework use to commence early on December 31 and to continue long into the night. These firework displays, along with other New Year’s festivities, make the night before New Year’s Day one of the busiest of the year for hospitals in the Netherlands.

The increasing pressure placed onto Dutch healthcare services due to COVID-19 prompted the Government to impose the firework restrictions in order to mediate avoidable hospital intake. The Rijksoverheid states that this measure was introduced to “prevent extra pressure on the already heavily strained healthcare system and on the maintenance of public order.”

Fireworks’ threat to safety and the maintenance of public order has been well-documented: New Year’s Eve (NYE) 2019 saw 385 hospital admissions and 900 general practitioner appointments due to injuries related to the setting off of fireworks. Upon introduction of the ban in 2020, the Minister of Justice & Security explained that “NYE has always been an exceptionally busy evening and night for our emergency services, even worse now because of COVID-19. Let’s help our healthcare providers […] as a society.” Following the 2020 firework ban, healthcare services sawa 70% drop in firework-related injury cases, validating the effectiveness of the ban in reducing pressure on Dutch healthcare providers.

While individuals are not permitted to purchase or use fireworks, organized public firework shows with a lower safety risk have been left up to the decision of individual municipalities. The Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, recently announced that the previously scheduled New Year’s fireworks have been cancelled as a result of high COVID-19 infection rates. This includes the much-anticipated Museumplein display and smaller displays across the city. Halsema stated that “because it is very uncertain how things will go on…it is not responsible to continue with the preparations”.

The ban puts a temporary stop to a tradition well ingrained into Dutch culture since the 1970s. Since the Dutch introduced firework displays for the birthdays of the Royal Family, fireworks have increased in popularity, particularly at an individual consumer level.

With about 68 million euros spent on fireworks in 2016, the Dutch take the crown for the greatest consumption of fireworks per capita in Europe, demonstrating the importance of fireworks in Dutch celebrations. In 2015, The Dutch Knowledge Center of Intangible Heritage (Kenniscentrum Immaterieel Erfgoed Nederland) recognized the setting off of individual firework shows on New Year’s as anational cultural heritage and tradition.

When interviewed, Boaz, born and raised in Amsterdam, stated: 

It was everything. I saved up money for months to be able to light fireworks on New Year’s Eve!” 

Pia, a 23 year old Dutch woman, recalls: 

“I remember holding sparklers whilst my dad ran away from the firework he had just lit. All my new year memories from growing up are interlinked with the excitement of lighting up fireworks.” She explains that “It wasn’t a show you would attend, it was one you’d take part in. You would make your own little celebratory entry for the New Year, and it was exciting.”

Both interviewees agree that the risk of injury or damage was always there, and that at times, “things went a little wrong.” 

For the benefit of healthcare workers who work hard in the fight against the pandemic and increased pressure on space in hospitals, the tradition cannot continue this year. While the ban sparked discontent from those attached to the practice, it is gaining support from Dutch citizens.64% of the Dutch population agreed with an individual firework ban in 2020, with reasons for their agreement ranging from environmental concerns to the safety risk. 

The question stands: is the tradition worthwhile when the healthcare system, environment and individual safety is put at risk?

People watching fireworks during the 2018 International Fireworks Festival at the beach of Scheveningen. Michael Fousert / Unsplash

Ornella Durand is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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