The New Year's Dive And Other Odd Dutch New Year Traditions

Image of New Year's dive
The New Year’s Dive at Scheveningen 2009
Photograph © Roel Wijnants 2009

What would you do to welcome the new year:
Blow up a milk churn with carbide? Dive in a freezing sea wearing only a swimsuit and an orange hat? Collect all the Christmas trees in your street to burn them in a big bonfire? Blow a very large horn?

The Dutch celebrate New Year on December 31 and 1st of January. Some New Year traditions are bound to exactly those two days, others take place in the weeks surrounding the turn of the year mostly between Advent and Epiphany. And although the Dutch do have traditions in common with other nations like waiting for the clock, toasting with champagne, lighting fireworks and having a great time at a party, they also have customs that may seem very odd to the foreign eye.

New Year’s Dive

This tradition was introduced by a swimming association in the sixties: the brave members of the club plunged into the freezing North Sea on New Year’s Day. Canadians may be familiar with this event since they have a similar tradition dating back to the 1920s.

Over the years taking the New Year’s Dive has become a popular and massive event (10,000 divers!) that is sponsored by Unox, a big food manufacturer famous for its traditional Dutch pea soup and smoked sausages. They provide the divers with flashy orange pompom hats and gloves. Some bathers add to their funny looks by dressing up like all kinds of odd things. Some even skinny dip. Everyone that has taken a serious dive is given a certificate and a cup of steaming hot pea soup to warm up again. Watch it here!

Christmas Tree Hunting

The older generation still has vivid memories of the now prohibited Christmas tree hunting. This was a popular event in the big cities like Utrecht, Den Haag and Rotterdam.

In the days between Christmas and New Year people would leave their used Christmas tree on the sidewalk. In less refined neighborhoods people would simply chuck the tree out of the window onto the street. Gangs of little boys roamed the streets to collect the trees and hide them in some secret place like a garage until New Year’s Eve. Every street had its own gang of tree hunters and they would fiercely fight each other for a tree. These fights often ended in true little battles with bricks flying through the air. Some gangs would even raid upon other gangs and steel their trees.

At New Year’s Eve every gang took the trees form their hiding place and piled them up in their street to light a big bonfire. Not only trees ended up in the fire but also old furniture and tires. The street with the biggest bonfire had won.

Since the battles for trees often got way out of hand, Christmas tree hunting is now forbidden. Instead, communal bonfires are organized by the municipality and people bring their own Christmas tree to peacefully enjoy the big bonfire together.

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