My first New Year’s in The Hague was mildly traumatizing.
It was a war zone, and I’m convinced that my neighborhood was at its center. Kids and men alike loitered in the streets for days leading up to the big night, lighting firecrackers and carelessly tossing them into the street with a loud POP. I would walk to the store like a nervous rodent, fearing that a bottle rocket was going to veer into my hair or worse, into my eyeball.
On the eve itself, I thought I would honor my own roots by ringing in the New Year Iowa style. New Year’s in Iowa is celebrated more quaintly: we beat kitchenware and shout Happy New Year into the night air once, maybe twice, and then we scurry back inside for a hot beverage since it’s usually freezing cold outside. It’s a pretty low-key affair, at least for my family. We save recklessness for the 4th, but even then, it pales in comparison.
So as the Dutch emerged from their safe homes with a personal stash Black Cats and roman candles, I scavenged my friends’ kitchen for a big soup pot and a wooden spoon to beat it with. It’s not that I thought banging a pan would allow me to win friends and influence people, but more that it would be a good way to get involved since I wasn’t going to touch a sparkler, let alone single ignition unit.
When I joined our neighbors and spotted a ten year old with an arsenal that would’ve impress Kim Jong-il, I knew my Iowa tradition would fall on deaf ears (and I knew I, too, would be half deaf by the evening’s end). I still went through with it despite feeling kind of sheepish. Holding a big pot and a wooden spoon and not beating it would have looked even more stupid.
Then I put the pot down and looked up, and I fully understood the attraction of contributing to the pryro-insanity that plagued every Dutch citizen. Hundreds of thousands of fireworks erupted like popcorn into the night air, raining a confetti of singed cardboard onto the cobblestone street. It was a constant booming so charged with the emotion that I couldn’t help but get sappy about the end of one year and the start of a new one. In a country one third of the size of my home state but with three times the population, it was amazing to witness Holland’s entire population giddily setting legal explosives ablaze.
Tonight and eight years later, I’m going to Scheveningen Beach, where they will light two enormous bonfires that can probably be seen from both England and satellite. The tradition began with the Dutch dragging their christmas trees to the beach to burn them en-mass, but somewhere along the lines the tree got thrown out of the whole ceremony. Now, it’s all about making the most ridiculous, insanely huge fire from thousands of stacked wood pallets.
2014 should be interesting. I’ve been through a rough time with myself, my work and my relationships, but I’m on the upswing. I can feel that this year is going to be a good one.
To all you bloggers and readers out there:
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I wish you all a beautiful 2014!
Below: The Dutch prepare for Scheveningen’s bonfire.