Oudejaarsavond in Alblasserdam.
Also Known As Nieuwjaar, Silvester
Oudejaarsavond (translation: "Old Year's Eve"), also known as Silvester among Christians, is a festivity celebrated on the final day of the year. Modern customs are a melting pot of ancient traditions. Early appearances of Catholicism in western Europe mixed in with the the ancient Germanic Joel and replaced its Pagan features with several new traditions in the Netherlands, such as Sinterklaas and Kerstmis. Joel or Midwinterfeest was originally a holiday of Scandinavian nature that would celebrate the December solstice on what would be the longest night of the year, honoring the birth of a new start. Joel bears similarities to the Celtic Samhain, with there being fire, sacrifice, a feast and noise to ward off evil. This was also a time to honor the dead and make resolutions for the next year. Many of these traditions still hold true for Oudejaarsavond.

A Noisy HistoryEdit

Germanians produced noise to scare off malicious entities even before Christianity rose to power in 4th century Germania. This was long before the west derived their gunpowder from China around the 13th century, and tools like mist horns, ratchets, pots, drums or churchbells were used to make noise instead. Interestingly, it is well-known that the Chinese scared off malious entities with their fireworks on New Years eve but not everyone seems to know this tradition is equally inherent to Europe.[1] With the coming of gunpowder, explosions were added to the cacaphony but colorful fireworks were only ever lit in the company of royalty. In the 1960's, certain shops started selling ostentatious fireworks from China to the general public of the Netherlands during the month of December. Fireworks may only be lit on December 31, between 18:00 and 2:00. [2] Of course there are those who break the curfew, buy illegal fireworks, experiment by creating fireworks bombs and destroy public property with explosives for fun. Every year property catches fire and people are hospitalized. Even windmills and monumental buildings met their fiery end.[3] As such, some people in modern times think it's better to abolish access to fireworks.[4]

Another old and similarly noisy Dutch tradition practiced by some on New Years is Carbidschieten. This is often done using milk churns which are filled with a piece of calcium carbide and some water. The churn is sealed with a lid or a ball and after about 20 to 120 seconds these churns can be ignited at the bottom, causing a loud explosion which blasts the object through the air.[5]


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Bonfire tradition gets out of hand in Scheveningen.

Fires have been a major symbol to the pagan Joel festivities and were meant to represent the returning sun after solstice. In modern times bonfires are still a beloved new years tradition to some, albeit with different motivations. The most renowned bonfires in the Netherlands take place on the neighboring towns Scheveningen (north) and Duindrop (south) beach. What started with the burning of old dried up christmas trees on the beach eventually grew into a competition over who has the biggest bonfire. This rivalry has since taken on dangerous proportions and as a result these traditions have been at risk for being banned entirely.[6][7]

Door To DoorEdit

Children in Kempen, the Achterhoek region and parts of Zeeland head out on the streets to parttake in a New Years singing tradition. Oftentimes they'll bring a rommelpot (and stampviool in Zeeland) and wish everyone a happy new year by singing door to door. They're often awarded candy. Back in the day it wasn't uncommon to reward children with small amounts of money either. Impoverished adults too would sometimes take part in this tradition but it was frowned up by most and viewed as beggary.[8] Old and forgotten professions like chimney cleaners, lantern lighters, street sweepers and night guards went door to door to wish people a nice new year and they would often be tipped for their efforts. In recent days not a lot of people do this, except for the occasional paperboy.

Food And DrinksEdit


Oliebollen and Champagne.

The New Year is associated with a number of Dutch treats. Oliebollen for example, which are deepfried spoonfulls of yeast dough balls. An appelbeignet or Ananasbeignet are fritters made of apple or pineapple respectively. Appelflappen are puff pastries made of apples and Duivekater is sweet oval-shaped bread. The Nonnevot is a deepfried treat from Sittard in Limburg, shaped like a knot commonly worn on the backside of a nun's garnment and were traditionally available from Sint Maarten to Carnaval. Originally they may have come from the German "Nonnifutte", a pastry found in Aachen and a few other German cities.[9][10] In Groningen, Drenthe, Twente and the Achterhoek it's tradition to eat Knieperties. These are a small type of waffles. On the first day of the year, some places like to roll up the kniepertie to symbolize a flowerbud, whereas the last day they are eaten flat to represent a flower in bloom. In these same regions they also eat Spekdik, which is a waffle similar to the kniepertie, but with bacon inside but are sometimes made using other meat.[11]

During the final countdown it is modern day tradition to open a bottle of sparkling white wine, have a toast and congratulate the company on another year. Many people head outside to light and/or watch fireworks and wish their neighbors a happy new year.


Among the religious, Oudjaarsavond is also known as Silvester. Named after Sint Silvester who died on the 31st of December, this is a time to memorize and honor the people who passed away during the past year, with Psalm 90 being cited for the occasion. In modern times, churches celebrate Silvester on the year's final Sunday.[12]


Wim Kan first performed his "Oudejaarsconference" on Dutch national television on December 31st in 1973. This standup comedy routine was a political jest in reflection of the past year and became wildly popular with the Dutch population. To this day, these conferences are still performed annually.[13]


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