Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Written by Markus
Today I’d like to discuss the strange fireworks regulations that were put in place for the new year celebration 2021-2022 by the Dutch government and how Dutch residents simply ignored it.
Every year, the Dutch celebrate new year by lighting their own fireworks. It starts a few days before new year when firework shops open their doors to the public. During the rest of the year, buying and using fireworks is not allowed, so those who do like to play fireworks, look forward to it the entire year.
Normally, Dutch residents can buy up to and including category 2 fireworks. This is “light fireworks”, but not that light that one cannot get hurt. Commercial fireworks start at category 4,
In groups they walk through their neighborhoods, carrying around their fireworks and having a great time. Adults stay home and will light some heavier and more expensive fireworks, while standing in front of their house with a bottle of champagne. This has been happening for at least decades as I too remember living towards this moment for months.
Watch this pre Covid-19 (2018) you-tube video, explaining this Dutch tradition:
This is not my video, so props to the creator and my friend HXC.
But keeping to this tradition was stopped by the government overnight. Due to Covid-19 restrictions earlier, the idea was to alleviate hospitals from burn victims, allowing them to focus on treating Corona patients. So playing fireworks was not allowed and the fine would be 250 euro if you do it anyway. Also, the sale of fireworks was stopped, so it was not possible to buy fireworks in the Netherlands. Sounds like this would solve it, right? But no, the opposite happened.
The Netherlands is situated next to Belgium. From the center of the Netherlands, it is about a 90 minute ride to the Belgium border. And even though there are no borders nor border controls, the two countries have slightly different rules about a few things. One of them is around fireworks. In Belgium you can buy category 3 fireworks, so higher and heavier than normally is allowed in the Netherlands anyway, for sale throughout the year.
So you can simply drive to Belgium with your car, buy heavy fireworks and drive back. The risk is you get caught by a random 1-on-1 customs check by a mobile (driving) customs officer. If so you’ll lose your fireworks and get a fine of a few hundred euro.
So imagine the customs check between Singapore and Malaysia is removed and you can cross the cross-way bridge at full speed, driving from country to country. And customs would randomly stop a few cars every hour to check them on cigarettes and chewing gum, but let the rest go through?
So it started in the beginning of December. Queues started appearing in small villages near the Belgium borders. And these queues started growing and growing.
The most remarkable thing is not so much the queue itself, but the fact that the villages were engulfed in thousands of cars with a Dutch license plate (yellow, where Belgium plates are white), making it very obvious what was happening: Dutch residents are buying fireworks that is illegal in the Netherlands.
And not that surprisingly. If fireworks, even the lighter category, is not for sale in the Netherlands, people will cross the border to buy fireworks there. And when there anyway, buy fireworks that is heavier than they would normally buy.
The remarkable thing is that the whole of the Netherlands starting to do this, knowing it is illegal and what the risks involved are. Highways to Belgium quickly filled up in the days before new year.
So there you are. You now have a few million people who have bought illegal fireworks that they can’t use, and is lighting them is illegal. Or can they?
Boom! At exactly mid-night, the country lighted their fuses and up went the fireworks. And surprisingly, people did not fight with the police. They simply ignored them. It was just too much for the police to handle.
All they could do was stand there and watch, or assist with putting out small fires here and there.
In the end, it became clear. You can’t stop Dutch traditions with threat of force and fines. The Dutch will simply do what they feel they need to do, no matter what the politicians say on TV. No matter what the police is instructed to do.
There were some negative results following the decision of banning fireworks in the Netherlands.
Also, the trade of fireworks went underground. As mentioned, from the center of the Netherlands, you can get to Belgium in 90 minutes. But from the north, it will be close to 180 minutes (one-way). And seen not everybody want to drive for 3 hours, they’d buy it from someone else who did. This resulted in those already bringing in illegal cigarettes, now simply added fireworks to their distribution lines for a few days.
It is also a big risk, to do something that is actually not allowed, even if the chance you are caught is tiny. Also, after a long drive and you are finally in a Belgium fireworks shop, you are going to buy more than you would if the shop is just around the corner and you can go back easily.
These are some of the photos of the fireworks display during New Year's in Holland.
That it may be a free 2022!