The Norwegian capital has become the only major city in the country to drop traditional fireworks displays at midnight on New Year’s Eve this year. The Oslo City Council voted against funding an official display for several reasons, while Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim and most other municipalities were setting them off as usual, weather permitting.
“I think it’s better to use the money on things that last and can benefit everyone,” Sirin Stav of the Greens Party told news bureau NTB. She’s in charge of environmental and transport issues in Oslo and often a target of criticism. On the fireworks issue, however, Stav had sufficient support on the City Council.
The primary reason for cancelling the city’s spectacular, if noisy, fireworks display was the noise itself: Animal protection organizations and thousands of pet owners have complained for years about how fireworks especially upset their dogs. One woman told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she’s resorted to spending New Year’s Eve with her dog in her home’s cellar, simply in an effort to keep her pet calm.
“Fireworks come as a sudden and unexpected inferno of noise for animals,” Stav said. “I think anyone who has been in the proximity of a stressed dog on New Year’s Eve understands what I’m talking about.” She noted that fireworks also severely upset birds and have even killed them, along with some small animals that literally die of shock.
Oslo city officials also cited the environmentally unfriendly aspects of fireworks, the private use of which was banned within the capital’s central areas several years ago. They’re especially banned in the historic neighbourhoods of Kampen and Vålerenga, which feature many wooden buildings, because of the fire danger.
Officials also point to all the eye injuries that have occurred when non-professionals set off fireworks, and to the litter fireworks packages leave behind. Many still defy the ban on setting them off in the area from Oslo’s Ring 2 roadway to the fjord, and often use local parks for illegal fireworks displays, while hoping to avoid police.
The Greens Party also cites the air pollution fireworks create, especially on still and cold winter nights, along with the sheer expense. At a time when inflation, high electricity rates and rising interest rates are creating budget concerns, the millions spent on fireworks didn’t seem appropriate. Some also find fireworks unnerving and even a reminder of the Russian bombing that forced Ukrainian refugees in Norway to flee their homeland.
It’s been three years since the last public fireworks display in Oslo in 2019. Corona virus restrictions against public gatherings cancelled those on New Year’s Eve in 2020 and 2021, along with most others around the country.
Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger were among Norwegian cities planning to resume their traditional public fireworks displays this year, unless they’re halted by stormy weather. They may end up following Oslo next year, though: Rune Bakervik, who leads the city government in Bergen, told NTB that his city was also evaluating other types of celebrations including the use of special light shows involving drones.
“Bergen will have its public fireworks display downtown this year,” Bakervik said last week, calling it part of “a fine and long tradition around the world.” His government has, however, decided to consider alternatives: “What happens from here on, time will show.” Bergen, like Oslo, also bans private use of fireworks in downtown areas because of the fire danger, and also urges use of eye protection in areas where private fireworks are allowed.
May make a comeback
While several animal rights organizations and pet owners were breathing sighs of relief this week, Oslo’s decision to drop its official fireworks did meet some criticism. Opposition politicians from the Conservative Party called it “unnecessarily humourless,” and the Progress Party told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday that they’ll reinstate a display if they win city goverment power in the autumn election.
Norway’s highly regulated fireworks vendors, meanwhile, have reported strong sales this year. “Based on sales for more than 1,500 vendors, 2022 will be a record year,” stated a press release from trade association Norsk fyrverkeriforening. Fireworks thus remain popular, especially outside the big cities where they’re still allowed for private use.
Stav of the Oslo city government predicts their popularity will wane, though: “I think we’ll look back on private fireworks in densely populated areas like we look at smoking indoors before smoking bans took effect.”