Comparative Showcases
Arts and culture
Cultural Customs, Traditions and Rituals

Cultural customs, traditions and rituals have frequently been displayed on television in Europe, and these subject matters are central to European television programming. Television programmes pay attention to national traditions, but also portray customs which have transcended national and European borders.

 Television programmes place an emphasis on (inter)national customs and traditions, using a variety of styles and approaches.The Catalonian documentary series 'Flamenc-o' (TVC, 2003) shows the impact of the flamenco on Catalan culture and tradition, by means of an emphasis on the history of flamenco music and dance in Catalonia. By means of explanations and performances by flamenco artists, particular attention is paid to the different elements of the tradition; from flamenco voices (el cante), flamenco guitar (el toque) and flamenco dance (el baile) to the different flamenco rhythms (los palos). In contrast, the Swedish film 'Flamenco: An encounter with Spanish gypsies' (KB, 1962) presents flamenco as a natural part of the everyday lives of the Romani people in Sacro Monte, a small village close to Grenada. By means of long sequences with a moveable camera, flamenco songs and dances are captured on film as natural elements of daily life, and simultaneously function as crucial elements of the rhythm of the film itself.

In Hungary, the cultural programme 'Feszti Panorama: Egg festival, and hunting for truffle' (NAVA, 2006) reports from the 4th International Egg Festival in Siófok on the custom of egg painting and truffle hunting. The different methods of egg painting are explained by means of interviews with experts in the tradition, which are held by a roving reporter. The interviews and festival images are intercut with fast paced music and an image of an egg-eating Robert de Niro in the movie Angel Heart (1987). The popular science programme 'Handcrafts' (NAVA, 2006) makes use of a more traditional approach to present the methods and techniques of egg painting. Using a voice-over and close-ups to showcase the detailed and intricate handwork, the meaning of the symbols of egg painting in particular is clarified. Whilst the Siófok Egg Festival conveys the international character of the custom of egg painting, emphasizing that painting eggs is a popular activity with clubs and associations, 'Handcrafts' underlines that egg painting is traditionally the responsibility of wives and girls.

Some programmes emphasize how traditions and rituals of their nation's past are still preserved in modern times, functioning as tokens of national culture. The lifestyle programme 'Amber at Rosenborg Castle' (DR, 1985) showcases the craft of amber carving in Denmark, which flourished in the Baroque Era. The programme reports on an exhibit of carved amber gems that the Danish kings collected during the 17th and the 18th century, by means of interviews with experts. Through the use of close-ups displaying every side of the artwork, the works of cut amber displayed at Rosenborg Castle (varying from a bejewelled chest to an elaborate chess set) are shown in the greatest detail. These works represent Denmark's oldest artwork, with roots in the Stone Age. In Greece, the broadcast 'Dionysiac ritual of the 'Maides' in Makrynitsa, Pelion' (HENAA, 1961) films a dionysiac ritual taking place at Mount Pelion in Makrynitsa. During this ritual, locals dress up as 'Maides' (satyr-like figures) and dance at night-time whilst surrounded by a large crowd of regularly dressed spectators – providing a large contrast between traditional dress and modern-day clothing. In Catalonia, St. George's Day is celebrated with a special live programme titled the 'St. George's Day Report' (TVC, 1997). On St. George's Day, it is a traditional custom to give a book and a rose to a loved one. The programme provides a frequently updated ranking of the books that have sold best on the day. The enthusiastic presenters interview writers and locals on how they celebrate the day of St. George (Sant Jordi) and continually emphasise how special it is to celebrate this day every year – especially in contrast with the pro-Franco period between 1933 and 1954 during which Catalonia could not freely celebrate St. George's Day.

Other television programmes transcend national and European borders, and specifically investigate the cultural customs and traditions of other continents. For example, the documentary 'Remote Mission' (NAVA, 2007) represents the work of Imre Zsoldos (a professor of French studies at the Fu Jen Catholic University of Taipei and born in Hungary) as a missionary of the Evangelical Church in Taiwan. In the footage and interviews shown in this documentary, a particular focus is placed on the everyday life and religious customs of Taiwan. Programmes can also emphasize how (inter)national customs are turned into a television event. The Eurovision registration 'The Very First: Europe in domino '88' (S&V, 1988) is an example of how the international custom and hobby of playing dominoes has become a major live-event. Transmitting from the Autotron in Rosmalen, The Netherlands, this broadcast shows how 30 students from technical universities attempt to break the world record of falling domino bricks. Using 1.5 million bricks, these students built numerous mosaics about art, culture and leisure in Europe; ranging from national flags, cultural landmarks and well-known figures like Copenhagen's Little Mermaid and Brussels' Manneken Pis (Petit Julien) to important sources of revenue in European countries, such as agriculture and cattle breeding. The close-ups and long shots of the falling domino bricks are accompanied with surprisingly subdued commentary by the show's host (who often whispers his voice-over comments, seemingly afraid that his voice will make the bricks fall too soon), which provides a sharp contrast with the rowdy shouts, applause and anxieties uttered by the nervous students during their record-breaking attempt.

Finally, the selected materials reveal how several customs and rituals themselves have transcended national borders, particularly religious celebrations. This has for example resulted in both traditional and contemporary retellings of The Passion of Christ in several European countries. For instance, the documentary 'Christ's Passion in Esparreguera' (TVC, 1999) documents the re-staging of 'La Passió', a play of Jesus' life and death, in the village of Esparreguera. Using archival footage, interviews with the director and participants, and footage of the play (with the actors in traditional dress), the documentary reveals the importance of the play to the village of Esparreguera, and how all the inhabitants take part in the play. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, Easter was celebrated in 2006 with a major live event titled 'Manchester Passion' (BBC, 2006). This contemporary re-telling follows key moments in the last hour's of Jesus' life and uses popular music from Manchester bands such as Joy Division, The Smiths and Oasis. The story unfolds in a procession through Manchester City Centre (with the actors dressed in modern-day clothing), culminating in Albert Square. In addition, the Video Active materials showcase the religious celebration of Christmas in various countries, from Christmas in the Indonesian archipelago (S&V, 1995) with performances of Christmas songs by Dutch-Indonesian artists in Sumatra and Bali, to the preparation for Christmas festivities in villages of Macedonia (HENAA, 1964), which includes cleaning the house, preparing the fire in the fire place, weaving new textiles, preparing sweets for children singing Christmas carols, and the delivery of a Christmas tree. To conclude, cultural activities from outside of Europe have also become part of national festive events in Europe, and feature heavily in the European televisual landscape. For example, steel bands (steel drums are a musical form originating from Trinidad) and samba dance (which hails from Rio de Janeiro) feature heavily in carnival parades in resp. Notting Hill, England, and Aalborg, Denmark. The Notting Hill Carnival in London (BBC, 2001), which began in 1964, is now one of the leading street festivals in the world, whilst Aalborg houses Scandinavia's biggest carnival (DR, 1999).

The representation of customs, traditions and rituals has been an important point of interest in various European countries. The Video Active selection on the 'Arts & Culture' topic exemplifies that these subject matters are central to European television programming. European television programming has throughout the years paid attention to a wide range of cultural habits, ceremonies and (leisure) activities ranging from art practices that hail from the Stone Age to daily activities and hobbies.

 Berber Hagedoorn