Out with the old, in with the new

In a country renowned for its modesty and lack of festive Christmas, New Year’s Eve is one of two times a year when The Netherlands really lets loose, shunning its Protestant pride for its lack of excess.

It begins early in the day and builds to varying crescendoes, peaks and valleys of random firecracker noise thatbuild to a spectacular final release just after midnight. It's not entirely safe to be on the streets, even during the day, and after midnight, with the deafening noise, descending smoke and smell of gunpowder, and a instinctive tendency to crouch protectively while walking, it's the closest most of us will ever come to being in a war zone. Each year, over 65 million euros is spent on fireworks in Holland, during the last three days of the year that they’re for sale, and at midnight, you see the result. That's because on the last day of the year, any citizen joe can set off fireworks that in most other countries are illegal, or require permits with appropriate safety precautions (a fire brigrade on standby, police in riot gear at the ready, etc). And so they do.

In the afternoon leading up to New Year's Eve, L and I headed the opposite direction, for a ride down the Amstel River past the outskirts of Amsterdam and deep into the heart of Rembrandt country, where nothing has changed much, not even the view, in a few hundred years. What has changed is that the small farms and farmhouses on one side of the river are slowly being shut down or sold, and other things being built in their place.

On the other, more residential, side of the river houses are being renovated to exacting (and sometimes non-Protestant) standards to the point of being very un-Dutch (or at least, not chocolate-boxy Amsterdam).

And even some motel-like structures, right next to fields, like this:

As L and I headed back into the city, the sound of firecrackers became more continuous, from all sides. It was still bright daylight and I had to question the logic of setting off fireworks while it was still light out. It got me thinking about our increasing lack of ability to delay gratification… doing something immediately because we just can’t wait, to lesser satisfaction in the end. When I moved here 5 years ago, New Year’s Eve day consisted of trying to dodge kids that threw lit caps at you as you rode by them on your bike, but now nearly the entire day is filled with the sound of fireworks – the real ones, the big ones – that used to be saved for midnight. In fact, I started hearing fireworks as early as Christmas this year – much more randomly than we heard today, but yes, a week earlier than half a decade ago.

A couple of times now, I’ve heard about a study that looked into patterns of delaying gratification. Scientists took a bunch of 4 year olds and told them that they could have 1 marshmallow now, or 2 if they waited 15 minutes. Then the scientists left the room and filmed the kids to see what they’d do. Of course, a minority of kids actually waited to get 2 marshmallows (I think it was 20%), but then the scientists looked at what all of those kids were doing education and career-wise a good deal later. And they found that the kids who waited were much more successful. http://www.sybervision.com/Discipline/marshmallow.htm

Whether it’s marshmallows, fireworks or tearing down houses, something worth thinking about.