I went off to enjoy another Dutch tradition yesterday afternoon with a friend and her young son. De kerstboomverbranding, literally the Christmas tree burning, is the annual immolation of Christmas trees. In Amsterdam it’s held on Museumplein on the first Sunday of the new year and people bring their un-ornamented trees to the square, often by bike, and the fire brigade sets fire to them.
There’s something deeply fascinating about flames so there were hundreds of people waiting to watch the bonfire. There’s also something really dangerous about fires and soon the flying embers were falling all around us, smoldering on winter coats and resting on the “to burn” pile of trees. We retreated, but you could see the fire from right across the square.
It’s a Dutch tradition I’ve known about for years, but where did it come from?
Once upon a time… OK in the 1950s burning the Christmas trees was much more of a free for all, this 1951 shows the burning of trees happening on New Year’s Eve and being done across Amsterdam in the streets (commentary in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea from the images). Various parts of Amsterdam started to centralise tree burnings to reduce the risk of injury and fires.
The concept got a further boost in the 1960s, with a campaign in Haarlem where children could bring in the trees in exchange for a ticket to the movies for use during the school holidays. The trees were then burnt publicly under the supervision of the police and the firebrigade on New Year’s Eve.
It was fun to see, but I’m sticking with my tiny fake, re-usable tree.