Surviving New Year's Eve (literally!)

New Year's Eve (Oud en Nieuw) celebrations in the Netherlands are about as thrilling as a nation-wide party can get. Here's a look at what to expect, what the rules are, and how to stay safe if you are planning to partake in the pyrotechnics.

Starting off with a bang

Lighting firecrackers on New Year‘s Eve is a cherished Dutch tradition. While most start doing it earlier in the evening, the real magic begins at midnight, with spectacular displays all across the country. In Delft, hundreds of people gather at the Markt around midnight to watch and light firecrackers. You can carry champagne and plastic flutes to stand back and enjoy. If you're looking to party at a grand scale, try the National Fireworks Display in Rotterdam. The party begins around 10.30 by the Erasmus Bridge and around 40,000 people gather to watch a magnificent display. Entry is free and open to everyone and the city metro and certain parking spots will be free of cost until 2am. Or, you can join the festivities in Den Haag so you're close to the beach in case you’re planning a midnight swim.

Timings

You can only light firecrackers between 6pm and 2am on New Year's Eve.

Buying firecrackers

By law, you can only purchase firecrackers for three days of the year: December 29th, 30th and 31st. Websites such as vuurwerkplanet.nl allow you to order beforehand and collect them during those days. One such shop near Delft is the Groenrijk 't Haantje in Rijswijk. Firecrackers range from fountain cones (€9.99), rockets (€8.99), crackling balls (€2.99), Mars Attack (€19.95) and Dragon Bombs (€49.99). Before purchasing crackers, ensure that the shop or website has a license from the government.

Playing it safe

Safety concerns begin well before New Year's Eve. Shops have to apply for licenses and specify the amount (in kilograms) of firecrackers they will sell. They must also ensure that the fireworks are stored in a safe space fitted with sprinklers. These fire bunkers of sorts require a lot of space and investment. Parking is another concern and shops must ensure that there is enough space for cars to exit in a smooth and safe manner in case of an emergency.

Of course, precautions are a must during celebrations. In 2016, 482 firework-related accidents were reported, a number significantly lower than previous years. "You must wear safety glasses. Most accidents are to do with the eyes and that‘s something you can easily prevent. One-time use safety glasses cost only 1 or 2 euros and they're definitely worth it," said Edwin 't Hart, the owner of Groenrijk ’t Haantje. Several shops, including this one, now give out safety glasses for free to their clients.

Several municipalities in the Netherlands have also declared safe zones, areas where people cannot light firecrackers. These include hospitals, historical buildings and animal shelters.

Some other safety tips:

Be mindful of the elderly, little children and animals if you are lighting firecrackers on the streets. Warn all passers-by. Aim your rockets away from buildings. Don‘t light them near vehicles. Don’t get drunk and overdo the bravado.

If you have any safety tips or cautionary tales, share them in the comments below.