people portraits
when viewing on a small screen, best rotate your device to landscape

Celebrating the New Year in Holland.

January 1, as the start of a new year, is fairly recent in the Netherlands. Introduced in 1576 by decree of the central government in Brussels. Although there had of course forever been celebrations around that time of year - winter solstice, after the longest night the promise of the light returning and longer days coming. The essence of Christmas. Before that time, and depending on the period, a new year began with spring - Easter - new life, or in autumn - the end of the farming season, or at some other time of year. There was no uniformity, not even within the Netherlands, composed as they were of a large number of states that cherished their particularity.
However, with growing trade and contact between towns and regions some tuning became more convenient. Midwinter - New Year - Romeyn de Hooghe - c.1660 In the 17th century the turn of the year was for sure a noisy happening in Holland. A lot of drinking & singing, trumpets & drumming, and also the firing of muskets in the streets. A loud cacophony with origins deep in time, the idea being to scare away evil spirits. Rich Amsterdammers even had a special little canon at home for the occasion. Fireworks were known since late medieval times, but expensive and mainly for state affairs. Gradually, with gunpowder becoming more and more affordable, smaller firework and firecrackers enjoyed a growing popularity from the 18th century on. Cornelis Dusart - 1695 - Rijksmuseum # RP-P-BI-7360 Cornelis Dusart - 1695 - Rijksmuseum # RP-P-BI-7296 images by Cornelis Dusart - 1695 - Rijksmuseum Knocking at the door for wishing a happy, healthy and blessed new year was common practice, and a way to make some extra money for people who delivered a (badly paid) service. Like garbage men, town crier (announcements), canal cleaners, lamplighters, the knocker-up (wake-up calls), tower bugler, night watchman, and many more in real line up sometimes. They generally came with a printed new year's letter of their profession. A few examples below. New Year - Hoorn 1778 click on images for full view The standard model was a portrayal of the business on top, followed by a long epistle in rhyme exhibiting their good services, and wishing happiness and prosperity for the generous donor.
And there were of course beggars and vagabonds who gladly made use of the opportunity. new year nightwatch - 1789 - Rijksmuseum # RP-P-OB-84.099 new year garbage men - 1823 - Rijksmuseum # RP-P-OB-87.702 At a certain point it all got out of hand, with pure anarchy in some cases. There are testimonies of unprivileged people entering houses of the rich uninvited, simply taking what they thought was justified in accordance with Christian charity. As these events peaked late 18th - early 19th century, it undoubtedly had to do with the disastrous economic situation of the Netherlands in those days, resulting in massive poverty and unemployment. In any case, authorities started to restrict public festive expressions, with police enforcement against excesses when needed. On the other hand, that period paved the way for new social experiments.
Basically, the ruling classes trying to contain growing unrest among the poor, fueled by lack of perspective. The realization that traditional charity was not up to the problem any more.
For example, large areas of uncultivated land were bought, far away from Amsterdam, where the poor and the needy of the cities were supposed to start a little farm. Even though most of these people didn't have the faintest idea about farming, nor were they interested in it.
But that's another story... Nowadays there are only shadows left of these knock-on-the-door New Year's greetings. Like the newspaper boy (or girl) who still delivers in person a card with best wishes. One tradition that is very much alive and kicking is the "oliebol" - literally "oil ball" - a classic Dutch doughnut ball. Early Dutch settlers took their tradition with them to America, where it evolved into the omnipresent donut. In Holland however, "oliebollen" remained a seasonal treat. For a recipe see .
Under the image below a few "oliebollen" cooking advices. Left: Aelbert Cuyp - c.1652 - Dordrechts Museum  - object DM/010/937

Making "oliebollen" - suggestions.

Give the batter time to rise, a good hour. Best at a bit above room temperature, next to stove or radiator.
With preparing the batter, setting everything up and heating the oil, making "oliebollen" is not something you do in between. It takes time. But once you get the flow it's easy. That's why most people I know don't make just a few - they make a lot. Ideal for sharing the tasks; you do it this year, I the next. A nice social aspect as well. Don't put too many "oliebollen" at the same time in your deep-fryer. They will still rise somewhat when frying, so leave room. And also, if the oil cools too much they will suck up more fat. Although a typical winter treat, it's common practice over here to fry them outdoors, if possible. Or in a shed or garage. Otherwise with the windows wide open. Best not under a (working) mechanical cooker hood; the filter will get greasy rapidly. You can serve them fresh and hot. But keeping them a day or so, and eating cold is just fine as well. Don't try warming-up in a micro wave; the crust will become too soft. Another midwinter classic is "appelflappen" - apple fritters.
A recipe on one of my favorite cooking websites: . (click on link or on image below)
On Coquinaria you'll find loads of historical recipes, many in English as well. link to cooking website

A follow-up.

Upon the post above, Phil Fertey from Nelson, BC, Canada tried out the "oliebollen", and sent me a photo. oliebollen traditional dutch doughnuts Phil: "We made two batches of oliebollen on New Year's Day and delivered some to two neighbours and a friend - they were all very impressed and pleased by the gesture:) The first batch was made using a smaller spoon and, consequently, they were a bit smaller and more pleasant to eat than the larger ones pictured here. We will certainly make them again, adding raisins the next time!" In 2018 Phil made a bike tour of over 600 km in the Netherlands. On his very special "high wheel", a replica of an 1885 penny farthing: big wheel in the front (142 cm diameter) and a small wheel in the back. As you can imagine, this unusual sight attracted a great deal of attention. A recount of this exceptional bike tour, with pictures and video link on :

to top of pageto top of page

History & Heritage of the Netherlands | GuideHolland | home | contact | sitemap | Twitter | LinkedIn