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Carbide shooting in the Netherlands

A new years eve tradition during the coronavirus outbreak

Warning: Anything you read in this post is purely to inform you about an interesting Dutch tradition. This is not a guide or how to, and is probably not legal where you live. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

Walking with the milk cans

At the end of the 19th century, calcium carbide, or simply “carbide” - or “carbid” in Dutch - became available. Initially used for bicycle lighting and welding, somewhere at the end of that century it was also starting to be used for carbide shooting. Milk cans were widely used for transporting milk between the farms and the dairy, and therefore easily accessible for carbide shooting. In the second half of the 20th century it became more widespread outside of farmlands, at city limits and sports grounds.

Where initially the milk can and lid were used for shooting, in the 80’s most people started to use a ball instead of the lid to be more safe.

Now to where I come into this story. I was born in a southern city in the Netherlands. Because one part of the family lived in Friesland - a northern province of the Netherlands with it’s own language - my parents decided to move to Kampen, halfway between both my grandparents’ houses when I was 6. I remember quite clearly that the first few years where quite the shock, both for me and my parents. I now known that we ended up in the most active carbide shooting scene. When I was around 10, my first couple of shots were on a milk can of one of the neigbours, and a couple of years later my brother bought a can of his own.

Where - as I mentioned before - most people switched to shooting balls instead of lids back in the 80’s, that was - and still is - not the case in Kampen. But more fascinating, the shooting is done in the middle of the city. So when you arrive on new years day in Kampen, you may think you ended up in a warzone. With several sounds per minute coming from all different directions, driving into the city does still feel like coming home. (I moved out of my parents’ house almost 10 years ago)

Where most other countries celebrate the occasion with one big show, another Dutch tradition - buying and lighting your own fireworks - was worth €77 million last year. To learn more about it, I recommend an excellent video by the “Survival guide to the Dutch”.

This year was different though. The pandemic hit, and cases were going up at the end of the year after a summer with lax measures. Halfway through november, the government decided to ban the sale, transportation and lighting of fireworks to lessen the load on the hospitals already battling with lack of capacity. With carbide shooting not explicitly banned on a national scale, some municipalities still banned it on a local scale. The Mayor of Kampen - who in previous years participated by shooting on one of the official police milk cans - decided to implement a registration system with designated locations to limit the movement of people and the coronavirus and to prevent too many people gathering at one location.

And so, while the hundreds of people with a milk can on their back walking through the city was not a phenomenon that would occur this year, the shooting could still go ahead.

Drilling a hole in the bottom of the can so it can be ignited

Almost directly after the national ban on fireworks was announced, a run on milk cans started. While there is still a small factory that produces them specifically for the holiday tradition, most of the cans on the market come from families and old people having a decorated one in their hallway for umbrellas, so the supply is very limited. After searching for a while, I found someone selling one in excellent shape. Even though it was twice the price it would have been in previous years, I finally have my own!

After drilling a hole in the bottom to light it, buying some ear protection, carbide and several lighters we were ready to go. Oh, and in our case some traditional jeans tied to the lid to make sure the lid doesn’t find its way into someone’s home. Some carbide in the can, a guesstimated amount of water (too little and the lid will silently fall out of the can, too much and there will be quite the fireball), and quickly kicking the lid tightly in to the can, it is time to ignite it. Too early or too late and the lid will slowly fall off;

Sadly, one of my first shots was just out of frame when the lid only reached a couple of centimeters. You can spot me picking up the lid while still seated on the far left.

Best wishes for 2021!

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