Explosions and Oliebollen: Amsterdam New Year’s Eve

The last day of the year is a dangerous time to be in Amsterdam, but does that mean you should avoid it?

I just had my first New Year’s Eve in Holland, and it has become clear to me that Dutch people love fireworks and greasy food (but that second one isn’t news).

What is that delicious thing?

Trans-continental travel the day before a holiday doesn’t leave you with much energy, so my wife and I decided to take it pretty easy on December 31st.  My only request was that I would get to see some fireworks, and she was pretty satisfied with any plan that involved spending most of the night on the sofa.

Amsterdam managed to go above and beyond for both of our needs, and it was pretty spectacular.

But, let me first get to the greasy food part.

I had to work during the day on New Year’s Eve, but the bosses took some pity on us for slaving away while most of the country was starting their parties early.  They ordered in a giant platter of goodness.

Not long after lunch, one of my coworkers came up to me and asked, “Have you ever had oliebollen?”

It took my jet-lagged brain a second to realize that the question wasn’t going to come with any more explanation, so I told her that I hadn’t, and she insisted I rush to the kitchen with her.

Yes, they are as delicious as they look.

We found a giant plate of pastries, and I learned these delicious monsters are called “olibollen” (or an “oliebol” in the unfortunate case that you have only one).  Essentially, they’re a dense piece of dough (often mixed with raisins) that has been fried in oil topped in covered sugar. 

In other words, oliebollen are donuts on steroids, and the Dutch eat as many as they can on the last day of the year.  On my way home from work, I even saw a little girl selling them from a table on a bridge (like it was a lemonade stand in the suburbs).  She stared in disbelief that I didn’t stop for one, and it’s quite possible that I’m the only one in Amsterdam who didn’t.  I don’t know how she didn’t notice that my face was already covered in sugar and oil.

If you’re not sold that these things are awesome, I better mention one more important part.  Not only are they covered in powdered sugar, but it seems to be a law in the Netherlands that you must put so much on that it falls off when you bite into the treat, and then you have the ability to dip your future bites into the extra powder.  It’s a form of food socialism in which every bite is as good as the first.

Now to the part about the explosions.  I struggled to find out where I’d be able to see some fireworks, and it turns out that’s because they’re everywhere. 

Families throw firecrackers out windows.  Kids walk down the street setting off those little spinning things.  Professionals and enthusiasts launch massive rockets all over the place.

By 7 P.M. I had already seen multiple fireworks shows from my window (a few requiring me to close it before something came sailing in), and I decided it was unnecessary to venture out for the same thing.

At midnight I was leaning out my back window, talking to my family on Skype, and watching 5 different firework displays at once.

So, do I think you should avoid Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve?  Definitely not!  Just be careful of flying rockets, and prepare to go on a diet on January 1st.


Dutch Word of the Day:

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

This phrase is pronounced “Fgeh-look-ighk new-yarr,” and it’s the Dutch way of me wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!