As I stand in line to order oliebollen with my family, maneuvering my way around leftover fireworks on the street, I realize that the Dutch holiday with the most danger and the most food isn’t Sinterklaas, even though it includes huge chocolate letters and the possibilities of being trampled by a horse or getting a stomach virus. Neither is it Christmas or Easter or Sint Maarten (Dutch Halloween).
No, that holiday is Dutch New Year – called Oud en Nieuw (Old and New) or Oudejaarsavond (Old Year’s Eve).
In the Netherlands, most people celebrate New Year’s Eve with family and friends. In order to keep them at home, there is little to no public transportation available from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
That night Netherlanders watch on television the oudejaarsconference, a performance by a popular Dutch comedian (Claudia de Breij was chosen for 2016) that summarizes the main events and politics of the year.
And obviously, there are lots of fireworks.
“So, where’s the danger?” you might ask.
Well, there are no organized fireworks shows in the Netherlands (except for one in Rotterdam). That means everyone sets off their own, and the week before New Year’s Eve, fireworks are sold on nearly every street.
From 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Dutch can set off fireworks to their heart’s desire, including kids.
And because drinking alcohol is a big part of New Year’s Eve, too, many people setting off fireworks may also be drunk.
After many accidents, the Dutch government has banned some fireworks, and cities are allowed to ban setting off fireworks in some areas.
The response to the first law has been to buy fireworks in another country, like Germany. The response to the second law has been to travel to another city to set off fireworks.
Needless to say, New Year’s Eve is a pretty scary time for animals, children and people who fear loud explosions (like me).
But the most important part of New Year’s Eve isn’t setting off fireworks, or even the countdown until midnight. It’s the food.
There are two main dishes eaten on New Year’s eve: oliebollen and appelbeignets (fried apple pie).
Oliebollen (oil balls) resemble dumplings but are sweet, not savory. The dough is filled with raisins, currants, citrus zest or dried fruit, rolled in a ball about the size of a large ice cream scoop, and dropped in a deep fryer filled with hot oil.
Once lightly fried (they should not feel or smell oily), they are sprinkled with powdered sugar.
It is said that they were first made by Germanic tribes in the Netherlands during the Yule (their winter celebration) to please the Germanic goddess Perchta. The earliest discovered recipe of oliebollen, then called oliekoecken (“oil cookies”), came from the 1667 Dutch book De Verstandige Kock (“The Smart Cook”).
The Dutch are pretty serious about their oliebollen. Since 1993, the Dutch newspaper Het Algemeen Dagblad has held an annual oliebollentest at the end of each year – testing every oliebol at each of the 180 dutch bakeries and choosing the best and the worst oliebollen in the Netherlands.
In my town, Blaricum, oliebollen are more popular than appelbeignets. There are two main bakeries competing against each other for the best oliebol in town: Rémy and Tetteroo.
Naturally, I tried both.
Oliebollen are cheaper at Tetteroo (1 euro vs. 1.20 euros), but Rémy has more fruit in its dough. Tetteroo builds a separate, wooden store near the ice rink to sell their oliebollen and appelbeignets, whereas Rémy sells them in-store.
Rémy’s oliebollen were worth their price. I loved the additional raisins and cranberries in the dough. Though a little oily, they were my favorite by far.
Amateur fireworks shows and too much fried food may both be dangerous in their own ways, but I love how the Dutch celebrate Old Year’s Eve.
Gelukkig nieuwjaar! (Happy New Year!)
—By Héloïse Schep