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Why does Denmark go so crazy for New Year’s Eve fireworks?

Why does Denmark go so crazy for New Year's Eve fireworks?
Fireworks on sale on December 19th. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix
Danish New Year would not be complete without the spectacular, ear-splitting din of multiple fireworks salvos at the stroke of midnight. But why are fireworks so popular, and should restrictions be considered?

The tradition for shooting in the New Year with fireworks is far from new. Gunpowder is thought to have been lit at New Year as far back as the 17th century, when Copenhagen was under siege by Sweden.

During the siege, which lasted from 1658 from 1660, canons were fired three times from Copenhagen’s fortifications on New Year’s Day in a sign of defiance. In the pause between the canon shots, soldiers and people in the city fired their own weapons.

Later, the bordbombe (‘table bomb’), a small firework which can be used inside to fire out confetti, began to gain popularity in the mid-1900s. It was included in 1942 in the catalogue of upmarket department store Daells Varehus, according to DR.

READ ALSO: Same procedure as last year? How to celebrate New Year's Eve Danish style

Although the visual element of fireworks is impressive, it is thought that their loud sounds are the original reason for their use. The loud sounds were said to scare evil spirits away from the new year which one was about to enter.

Modern use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve is prolific. According to a Danish Chamber of Commerce estimate, 415 million kroner was spent on bangers, rockets and crackers in 2018. Around 27 percent of people in the country planned to buy fireworks last year, with 7 percent expecting to spend at least 800 kroner.

That plays its part in a busy evening for emergency wards at hospitals throughout the country. DR reported in 2017 that the early hours of that year saw 237 injuries treated at hospitals nationwide, as a result of accidents with fireworks.

The stress caused to animals by fireworks, not to mention their environmental impact, are also elements of the discussion as to whether the tradition is due for an update.

Neighbouring Norway could be looked to as an example in this regard. In 2008, the Norwegian government introduced rules prohibiting firecracker type fireworks with stabilizers, as well as fireworks that look like toys. One reason for the former is the injury risk of long fireworks which can topple over after being placed in bottles or snow and then lit.

Additionally, people in Norway may only purchase fireworks between December 27th and 31st, and may only set them off between 6pm and 2am on New Year’s Eve. In Denmark, they can be purchased from December 15th and set off as early as the 27th.

Overall, this means people in Norway are more likely to attend municipal fireworks displays than their own – a clear contrast to Denmark.

The Norwegian measures resulted in a significant decrease in accident figures, from 155 firework-related injuries in 2007-8 to an average of 58 in subsequent years, according to DSB Norge.

Nevertheless, animal welfare organizations and doctors in Norway are still concerned about their use.

READ ALSO: Should Norway ban fireworks on New Year’s Eve?

Recent days have seen several instances of police intervention following misuse of fireworks, with episodes in Grenaa, Randers and Aarhus, as well incidents in and around Copenhagen.

Left wing political party the Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) has called for restrictions on firework sales reminiscent of those in Norway.

“There should be fewer days during the year in which it’s permitted to light fireworks. And sales should be more controlled. A lot of illegal fireworks are sold in Denmark,” the party’s justice spokesperson Rosa Lund told Ritzau.

“Thirdly, I think we should look at whether there should be specified areas in cities in which fireworks may be set off, so they are under control,” Lund added.

A total ban would not work, Lund also said. But another party, environmentalist group Alternative, has called for just that.

“We want (a ban) for safety reasons and also due to climate considerations,” Alternative justice spokesperson Sikandar Siddique told Ritzau.

A full ban could be temporary until a new model – perhaps municipal displays – is found to replace the current custom, the party suggests.

The governing Social Democrats have said they will consider a change to the rules in the new year but have rejected a full ban.

“Municipalities can implement zonal bans where fireworks may not be set off. We will initially look at whether municipalities are making good enough use of this option,” justice spokesperson Jeppe Bruus said.

“I don’t think we’re ready to ban all of it. It’s part of the traditions we associate with New Year. And it’s perhaps a bit drastic to let a few people ruin that for the rest of us,” he added.

 


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