Literally - oil balls. Sounds appetizing, huh? Oh, but they are delicious! Every New Years Eve my father would gather flour, yeast, sugar, raisins, and a pan of hot oil, and just around 11:00 we'd have the first Oliebollen.
Basically, an oliebol is a free-form raisin doughnut. Why they are eaten at New Years? Dunno. We just always did, as did all the other Dutch families we knew. And my dad always made them. No recipe, up to his elbows in sticky batter. One year my teenaged cousins tried to make them, since their parents were away somewhere. They set the kitchen on fire.
Wikipedia suggests oliebollen and appelflappen (apple fritters, we didn't have these) were a carry-over from Germanic Yule celebrations. "They are said to have been first eaten by Germanic tribes in the Netherlands during the Yule, the period between December 26 and January 6. The Germanic goddess Perchta, together with evil spirits, would fly through the mid-winter sky. To appease these spirits, food was offered, much of which contained deep-fried dough. It was said Perchta would try to cut open the bellies of all she came across, but because of the fat in the oliebollen, her sword would slide off the body of whoever ate them." Sounds about right. ;o)
I think, though, given yesterday's pronouncement of THE WORD, I'll skip the oliebollen. Maybe next year my word can be FAT or GREASY - oliebollen would fit right in.