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A Booming Entry into the New Year for the Dutch

by VR Sreeraman on  December 29, 2007 at 2:43 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
A Booming Entry into the New Year for the Dutch
The Netherlands will enter the New Year with a big bang, when the Dutch abandon their usual stinginess and spend millions of euros on fireworks, often imported illegally from neighbouring Belgium.
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"New Year's Eve is the only time in the Netherlands when the Dutch don't care how much they spend and abandon the moral high ground," Annette Birschel, a German journalist and author of a book on Dutch society, told AFP.

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To try and rein in the Dutch enthusiasm for fireworks the authorities have restricted sales to a three day period of 29, 30 and 31 December and "only" 10 kilos (22 pounds) of fireworks per person.

While the interior ministry and other groups have launched campaigns to focus on the danger of fireworks, Birschel said the moral campaign like the Germans have urging people to give to charity rather than spend on pyrotechnic displays are absent.

"Throughout Christmas we are bombarded with national charity drives but nobody criticizes the money spent on fireworks," she said.

The Dutch media estimate that in 2006 the Dutch lit up 55 million euros (80 million dollars) of fireworks.

In the weeks before New Year's Eve not a day passes without reports of police seizures of illegal fireworks. German police recently seized 40 tonnes of illegal fireworks destined for the Netherlands after a tip-off from the Dutch authorities.

"It just doesn't stop! They spend 100, 150 euros but it's not rare that they ring up a 300 euro-bill. What the Belgians spend on champagne and delicatesses, the Dutch light up in firecrackers," said a Belgian store owner, who would not be named.

His store is one of four in the tiny Belgian enclave of Baarle-Hertog in the southern Netherlands that sells fireworks.

From early December onwards all layers of Dutch society from the hip young crowd to the respectable grandfathers make the trip to Baarle-Hertog.

Although the tradition of making noise to chase away the spirits at the new year is a Germanic custom that goes back to the first centuries BC, fireworks did not come into fashion until after World War II. Previously people banged on pots and pans or fired guns.

Today one in three Dutch goes out on the streets on New Year's Eve to light fireworks and some streets in city centres seem to be transformed into battle fields.

When the clock strikes midnight on 31 December in Amsterdam the 17th century city centre lights up bright as day with the glow of the fireworks.

The pyrotechnics frenzy and racket means many pet owners drug their animals to calm them on New Year's Eve. People take care not to park their cars in the centre and the Dutch postal services seal off letter boxes.

More seriously, each year during this fireworks feast dozens of people are injured and in rare cases even killed.

But the fireworks business keeps booming, especially across the border in Belgium.

"I estimate that 90 percent of my clients are Dutch," said Koen Vorsselmans, at a Belgian garden centre near the border that attracts clients from the Netherlands with a huge banner.

He explained that the fireworks rules are stricter in the Netherlands, they are more costly and because of the three-day sales period there are always long lines.

"The price/quality ratio is better here and you can buy all year long," he said.

Behind the counter two glass cases show the fireworks on offer with enticing names such as "Thunder Flash".

"The more noise it makes, the better it is," says a Dutch mother, who didn't want to be named.

"I can't imagine a New Year's Eve without fireworks," she said, loading a large box of fireworks worth around one hundred euros in her family car.

Now she only has to get back across the border without being caught by the Dutch border controls stepped up to catch people with illegal fireworks.

Source: AFP
MAR/M
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