Fireworks!

New Years Eve is coming.

Here in Germany, you can only buy fireworks this week — the few days between Christmas and New Years. New Years Eve is the one time it’s socially acceptable to set off fireworks. (Or so I’m told. If Germany advances in the World Cup this summer, I imagine that rule might get bent.)

Is this just Germany, or is it true elsewhere? Also, is there any country in Europe that has completely banned fireworks? That would be understandable — every New Years Eve sees an unhappy harvest of lost fingers and eyes — but also kind of dismal.

And while we’re on the subject: which European country has the loudest New Years? I can’t imagine anyone is louder than Serbia; when we lived in Belgrade, sleep was impossible until long past midnight. The Serbs love their fireworks, and they set them off in the streets with a cheerful disregard for safety or good sense. It’s not an Eastern European thing, though — the Romanians like fireworks too, but they’re a lot more restrained about it.

Also, I’m thinking this is the year I’ll take my little boys (ages 8 and 6) to the store and let them pick out a couple of fireworks, which I will then ignite for them in our back yard just before bed time on the 31st. Too young, or about right? What think you, Europeans?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

25 thoughts on “Fireworks!

  1. I can tell you from experience – Russia is CRAZY on New Year’s and the local fireworks are interminable. Typically in a small suburb of Moscow the fireworks set off by local people start a little after sundown New Year’s Eve (~3:30 pm or so) and go on and on until ~ 4 am. Then, after sleeping off a bit of the drink, they are up and back at it by 1 pm on New Year’s Day well into the next morning. These are not official setups. The fireworks are local people having fun. And it is definitely NOT young people only taking big risks with the light-and-run routine. You have families out in the yard with friends, with the temperature at ~ -18 C, and enough alcohol to float a small ship. It is frightening and merry at the same time.

    Sleep? Forget it until morning. And last year I had a two-year-old that cried most of the night. It sounded like artillery falling all night long.

  2. No restrictions at all in France. Fireworks are mostly cracked for NY’s Eve and 14 Juillet , but it never gets mad. Maybe there’s a hint about prohibition efficiency here.

  3. >which European country has the loudest New Years?

    Russia.

    Although this year it’s kinda banned. Remains to be seen wether it would have any effect.

  4. Ok, it’s not geographically European, but all Australian states and the Australian Capital Territory have banned fireworks. No loss whatsoever.

    After seeing many New Years in Amsterdam (along with fireworks being accidentally fired into groups of people) and the insanity of kids wandering around with bangers up to a month prior to Christmas, frankly I think banning them would be a good thing.

  5. In the UK it is an offence to let fireworks off during night hours, except on Bonfire Night, Diwali, New Year, and Chinese New Year.

    In practice, they are basically not for general sale except for the two weeks leading up to fireworks night.

    (For the non-ukians, Fireworks Night is the popular local celebration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of some notable Catholic terrorists from the 17th Century).

  6. I’m a Brit, I live in Amsterdam. They have fireworks everywhere – the atmosphere and the basically city-wide party at NYE is just *amazing* – it’s such an experience!

    I went to London a few years back on NYE, to Trafalger Square. It was appalling. The local politicans banned fireworks for safety. The police banned alcohol. Everyone filtered in columns into the Square, having *all* drinks confiscated and destroyed (including water), counted down to NYD, cheered, and then filtered out, with the police being obnoxious and unpleasent. It was like a barracks :-/

    In Amsterdam, it’s *fab*. People love it – love life and enjoy themselves hugely.

    You can avoid doing most things for safety – and live a flat, dull life and then die.

    Problem is of course in London, *you’re* not choosing to live a flat, dull life. A politican is choosing for you.

    I’d rather have the fun memories and pleasure of being here than waste a NYE in London.

  7. Norway is – as always – a country of prohibitions. Fireworks can as in Germany only be bought between xmas and new years, we have however also banned all non ground-based fireworks. Rockets are a no go.

    Makes things quite a bit safer

  8. The thing is this; if I want to fire fireworks, then it’s *my* choice. I take the risk, it’s up to me to be careful. If I screw it up, then I bear the consequence.

    It’s not for someone else to make that choice for me.

    Similarly, if I go into Amsterdam at NYE – as I will – I do it in the full knowledge others have fireworks and are using them.

    I choose to go, because the tiny risk I run it absolutely and unequivocably worth the huge benefit of going.

    I run for example far more risk of being hit by a car, every day of the year, than I do that one night of being hit by a firework.

    It’s absolutely wrong-minded to imagine that the correct cost/benefit trade off is to eliminate this tiny risk, at the cost of the huge benefit, when there are so many other much larger risks we do nothing about.

  9. When i was growing up in nothern Alberta in the 70s, fireworks were banned. or unobtainable. at least where i was.
    so we made our own fireworks. great fun! it’s a miracle i still have all my fingers…

  10. The Republic of Ireland has a total ban on private usage or sale of fireworks, all year round. However, in the run-up to Halloween, this law (like most laws in Ireland), is blatantly disregarded: every night is a medley of bangs and whizzes, with little official attempt to enforce the law.

    I think the ban stemmed from the “troubles” and the fear that the IRA might use the contents of the fireworks for non-intended purposes. Or maybe there was another reason.

  11. Romania isn’t in Eastern Europe, but Serbia is? This has got to involve one of those definitions of the term that lumps the Romanians in with “the West” because they speak a Romance language.

  12. In my hometown, Strasbourg, where I am visiting for winter break, it always was absolutely crazy.

    Fireworks only start at midnight and run till dawn’s break on NYE. There has been a ban on buying fireworks in Germany over the last couple of years though, because it’s very cheap to do so and people come back with dangerous amounts of fireworks, which, if they exploded would endanger the car and their owners as well as the people around. The ban is also meant to dim the celebrations as last year it led to a house being accidentally put on fire by young people lighting fireworks in the streets and not respecting security distances.

    One of the fireworks flew in the air and ended up in a attic starting a fire which destroyed the whole house.

    I don’t know yet what the restrictions will be this year, but I’m sure the police will be much more concerned about another “tradition” of sort: young people putting cars on fire in projects’ housing.

  13. Concerning Germany: afaik that fireworks are not sold in most stores most of the year just has to do with demand. In specialty stores you can still buy them I think.

  14. Ann, my point was that Romania /is/ part of Eastern Europe, but the Romanians don’t go crazy with the fireworks.

    Doug M.

  15. In Finland the law has gotten stricter lately. Fireworks are on sale starting from 27th. You are required to wear protective goggles, but I don’t know how they think they can enforce this (one of those laws). Sales to under 18 year olds is prohibited. Also some areas (e.g. city centres) are off-limits for fireworks.

    At least in Finland fireworks cause dozens of fires every New Year’s Eve, so the “freedom argument” is a bit hollow. A total ban is maybe a couple of years away.

  16. In Pittsburgh, we got a lot of them after the Super Bowl. Not many on the 4th or New Years Eve because in Pennsylvania pretty much everything but sparklers are illegal.

  17. Douglas is right. After a series of unfortunate accidents (hundreds of accidents with kids losing eyes, fingers + a couple of deaths etc.) fortunately the Romanian authorities regulated fireworks quite drastically in 2006.

    Now it feels much safer and less stressful to walk outside during holidays.

  18. Just to clear up: The sale of fireworks is only allowed in the Netherlands on December 29, 30 and 31, at least to private citizens. Setting it off is allowed only on December 31, after 10 pm, until 1 or 2 am the next morning. The rest of the year, the purchase or use of fireworks by non-licensed individuals is strictly forbidden.

  19. Well, from my perspective in the Netherlands,the problem is not the big stuff, but the kids that have been lighting anything from bangers to Molotov cocktails since the morning of 31 december. The fireworks lit at midnight and after I can understand. But in this country, it has become some kind of excuse for vandalism. There are so many bangs through the day that it feels like war. I am staring to ask myself not why fireworks are forbidden the rest of the year but why they are sold at all.

  20. This is weird, because in the early 90s I remember that everyone was desperate to get their hands on German fireworks – the law permitted much less actual explosive in British ones.

  21. Czech Republic: small fireworks can be bought at any time (Class I by anyone, Class II since age of 18. Large fireworks (Class III and IV) had to be bought and handled by licenced specialist. Their use inside buildings and vehicles, next to schools and hospitals and at sport gatherings is forbidden. Fireworks are mostly used on Dec 31, after midnight.

  22. Veliko Tarnovo (BG) the fireworks were so, so. Private stuff, for 15 minutes around midnight nearly reaching German noise levels, but not quite as sustained as the displays I was used to in Germany. Of course the US (L.A., Bay Area) is pathetic.

  23. I remember in Germany in the early 1990s we could buy bangers very cheaply as 12 years olds – we always picked them up from shops selling them cheap after new years day kids always had them in the playgrounds. We never bought rockets but I don’t remember if it was a ban or not…

  24. Thank God people in Europe haven’t gone the dull way of the Anglo-Saxons with regards to New Year! I come from a culture that celebrates New Year with firecrackers left and right and is notorious for the hundreds of injuries that they cause annually. The authorities try banning them but people are largely defiant (the Philippines). At least I have a good idea where I can spend New Years if I had to be abroad around that time… šŸ™‚

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