Dutch Courage

Dutch Courage

All sorts of brands have all sorts of stories, even Dutch brands of pea soup!

Thanks to Sarah Richardson for pointing me in the direction of this one.

Dutch courage

The etymology of “Dutch courage” is most often traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, but there are a number of versions about its exact source. One version states that Dutch gin was used by English soldiers for its warming properties in cold weather and its calming effects before battle; another version states that English soldiers noted jenever’s bravery-inducing effects on Dutch soldiers and dubbed it “Dutch Courage”. 

However, if you were to look for a modern source of Dutch Courage you probably wouldn’t need to look further than the non-alcoholic erwtensoep (pea soup) of Dutch brand Unox. It helps provide the courage and the reward for the now traditional “Nieuwjaarsduik” – New Year’s dive – at Scheveningen, the Netherlands’ main beach resort.

The very first recorded Dutch new year’s dive, which officially requires the participation of a minimum of 25 dive ‘heroes’,  took place on January 1, 1960 in Zandvoort.  A local swimming club decided it would be a good way to start the year, with a plunge in the bracing and refreshing sea.

Five years later, in 1965, the first dive in Scheveningen took place and it became a regular but relatively small annual event with hundreds, rather than thousands, participating. 

All was to change some 20 years later when, in 1997, an insightful Unox employee recognised the potential in linking the brand, which had long been seen as warming and nourishing, with the event. He suggested sponsoring the dive, rewarding every participant with a free bowl of warming pea soup to counteract the often very cold water temperatures.


The first “Unox New Year’s dive” took place on 1 January 1998 and, with the exception of one year when temperatures were deemed to be too low, it has become an annual and national – even international – event. It is front page news, is regularly shown on television and nowadays even attracts tourists from many countries.

So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that on January 1st 2012, with the sun shining over Scheveningen, the temperature a not unreasonable 7 degrees,  as midday finally arrived, over 10,000 divers set off wearing their brightly coloured and clearly Unox – branded hats and gloves. Some added other assorted fancy dress. They raced towards the freezing North Sea, all wanting to be the first in the water.

In fact 2012 was a record breaking year across Holland with over 36,000 participants in the 80+ “Nieuwjaarsduiks” including ones in Amsterdam, De Meern, Rotterdam and Wassenaarseslag. Thousands more watched, millions saw it on TV and read about it in the papers.

The Scheveningen event remains the most popular and Unox remains the lead sponsor of the event. Nowadays the entry fee is €3 but participants receive a goody bag with the now traditional Unox hat, a commemorative pennant and a special edition pack of Unox pea soup. €1 from every entry fee is donated directly to a local good cause. 

It is therefore both a body-warming and heart-warming event for those brave enough or still hung over to take part in and has further allowed Unox to cement its place in Dutch culture

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