As I climbed the train station stairs, making my way to the city centre on New Year’s Eve, I was utterly unprepared for the chaos that ensued. Walking around the city on New Year’s Eve, I expected the usual drunkness and depravity I had come to associate with the new year. But then I encountered a group of pre-teen boys stood at the top of the stairs, listening to music loudly and drinking from a large liquor bottle. What I mistook for a lit cigarette bounced down the stairs toward me before unexpectedly exploding beside me, scaring me out of my wits. And that was just the start of the mayhem.
All over the city, bonfires burned in the streets, and a cacophony of bangs, booms, and blasts filled the air. Police cars and ambulances roamed the city, armoured with steel grates to protect against any hooliganism (which the city wasn’t lacking). Up until now, one of the most shocking cultural differences between the Dutch and Zambians was that I believed that the Dutch, as a rule, were law-abiding citizens. In Zambia, it almost seems like everyone is making up their own rules as they go, while in the Netherlands, both written and unwritten rules are respected and followed to a ‘T’. They never cross the street unless the light is green, never ‘forget’ to scan an item at self-checkout, and always pay a tikkie request (even if it’s only 23 cents).
But they really seem to let their hair down once a year (or twice, if you include the orange mayhem on King’s Day). On New Year’s Eve, almost anything goes and Groningen starts to resemble the lawlessness portrayed in the post-apocalyptic world of ‘Mad Max’.
This free-for-all is back with a vengeance after celebrations were subdued by force during the lockdowns of the past two years. Despite a ban on fireworks in 12 out of the 355 Dutch municipalities, according to Dutch insurance companies, December 31st of 2021 caused about the same amount of damage as a ‘normal’ New Year’s Eve – getting back to normal, with a bang.
This year, 1,253 injuries were incurred as a result of fireworks this New Year’s Eve according to the public safety centre, Kenniscentrum VeiligheidNL. Since the start of 2023, mayors have renewed their call for a national ban on fireworks, as policy-making on a local level is clearly not working.
As someone who came close to losing a toe to fireworks, I agree with the decision to ban F2, F3, and F4 level fireworks from being purchased or used by amateurs nationally. At a national level, the policy can be made less ambiguous and therefore be properly enforced, saving lives in the process. Don’t emergency workers – and unsuspecting international students – deserve a happy new year, too?