A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam


A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam

The Evening of the Old Year

The Dutch name for 31 December is not New Year’s Eve but Old Year’s Day. It’s not until 12:01 on 1 January that you even wish people a happy or lucky new year. Before then, you just hope that they have a good changing of the year. (In theory, at least. As with many cultural things, American influence continues to creep in.)

I didn’t notice the distinction during my first time celebrating the changing year. I was too overwhelmed by the fireworks. The city government arranged fireworks over the IJ, but Dutch tradition had people setting off professional-grade fireworks throughout the city. They were ramping up all evening, peaking at midnight and tapering off around 1 AM. It’s hard to think of linguistic nuances when children in child-sized safety goggles are running into the street to set off mini-explosions as cars and bikes try to avoid them.

It was fascinating the first year, but the absurdity was quickly brought home. Every year, there were stories of injuries due to fireworks. This year, the city has a big official display in Museumplein, with a handful of other neighborhood shows. Amsterdam has banned the sale of fireworks, much to the relief of Amsterdammers. Seriously, what measure ever gets 77% approval amongst the opinionated Dutch?

After a couple of years reveling in the chaos of amateur fireworks on every canal, my partner and I decided to embrace the idea of Old Year’s Eve. We didn’t make resolutions for the year to come or even party intensely to welcome it in. We sat with our pictures, notebooks, Instagram feed, and – yes – a bottle of good wine. We marveled at the fortune we’d shared and the people we’d met. We remembered trips that surprised us, sights that amazed us, and stories that made us laugh.

We didn’t recount our sorrows, but they hung in the air above us, bittersweet and now weightless. By the time we went to the canals to watch our neighbors light up the sky, we’d truly celebrated the year that was ending. For the first time in my life, I started the new year in knowing gratitude for the one that’s passed.

The year that followed was a difficult one, but it was in some ways made easier by that ritual. I knew that when we looked back at the end of it, we would have so much to celebrate. This year, I will be grateful that we launched our DIY tour, hired a fabulous new guide, performed history stories at Amsterdam icons, and got so much incredible media coverage.

In a time when we are always on the go, always looking forward to the next new thing, it can be incredibly fulfilling to look back. The Oudejaarsavond, or Evening of the Old Year, can be a time to look back on the past twelve months. You can rediscover happy moments that slipped by and successes that got lost in the tumult of day-to-day life. More importantly, you can start your new year with a blank slate and a full heart. It feels better than any resolution.

New Year's Fireworks over Amstelveld

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