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The fascinating history of New Year's fireworks in Denmark

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
The fascinating history of New Year's fireworks in Denmark
Fireworks let off in Køge, Zealand on New Year's Day 2023. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

For almost 500 years, Denmark has celebrated the arrival of the New Year with a bang - literally. From royal extravaganzas to neighbourhood celebrations, here's how the tradition evolved over the centuries.


In Denmark, a cherished tradition holds a special place in the hearts of many - the New Year's celebration with a fireworks display.

This time-honoured custom feels like an integral part of Danish culture, stretching back through the ages, and despite the safety concerns that accompany it, it still manages to captivate both residents and tourists.

READ ALSO: What are the rules for purchasing and setting off fireworks in Denmark?

Denmark's deep affection for fireworks is a story that spans centuries, full of fascinating developments, and today, with the New Year drawing closer, we're shining a spotlight on ten of the lesser known aspects of this enduring tradition.

A royal start to the fireworks celebrations

The first significant fireworks display in Denmark was recorded in 1559 during the coronation of King Frederik II.

His successor, King Christian IV, shared a love for fireworks, which helped turned Denmark into one of Europe's leading fireworks nations.

Getting rid of evil spirits and ringing in the New Year with a bang

Back in the medieval days of Denmark, people believed that evil spirits were at their mischievous best during the shift from the old year to the new.

To fend off these troublesome spirits, people embraced a variety of customs. One of the most peculiar involved tossing pottery at each other's doorsteps. This was a way of shooing away any lingering negativity and starting the New Year with a clean slate.

READ MORE: Why does Denmark go so crazy for New Year's Eve fireworks?

As the 17th century rolled around, the Danes decided to take things up a notch. In addition to the pottery-throwing tradition, they introduced a bit more oomph by firing the cannons along Copenhagen's fortifications.

The thunderous boom of those cannons added a thrilling touch to the transition, symbolising a farewell to the old year and an embrace of the new one.


The people join in

Ordinary Danes wanted to participate in this tradition as well.

In 1667, Christen Simmensen became the first known Dane outside of the royal court to shoot a gun into the air on New Year's Eve.

His enthusiasm landed him in trouble, and he faced a painful punishment involving the "wooden horse" torture device.

Tivoli's role in popularising fireworks, and the start of firework sales

Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in Copenhagen, played a crucial role in popularising fireworks in Denmark.

Since its opening in 1843, Tivoli has featured fireworks displays as a significant part of its identity.

Then, around 1900, tobacconists began selling fireworks to ordinary citizens (even though this was technically illegal for many year). 

The popularity of fireworks surged after World War II.


Spike in fireworks-related accidents and the first safety campaigns

As fireworks gained popularity, so did accidents involving fingers and eyes. Awareness campaigns, led by media such as DR, were initiated to promote safety.

In 2004, Denmark witnessed its most significant fireworks disaster when a fireworks factory near Kolding exploded.

A lost box of fireworks triggered an uncontrollable chain reaction, resulting in a massive explosion. At the time of the disaster, the company was storing 284 tons of fireworks in its warehouse. This tragedy claimed one life and caused significant damage to nearby properties.

Illegal fireworks and tightened regulations

Illegal fireworks have been a persistent issue in Denmark. In 2015, the police discovered what was then the largest illegal fireworks warehouse in Danish history in Jels, Sønderjylland.

In response to accidents and safety concerns, Denmark has implemented numerous laws and regulations over the years.

Starting in 2024, new rules will further restrict the days when fireworks can be set off, allowing for a more controlled and safe celebration.

If you want to know more about the Danish tradition of playing jokes on each other on New Year's Eve, you can also check out our article on nytårsløjer.



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