As a resident of St Andrews, one could not escape the Royal Wedding celebrations of this past weekend. The multiple parties happening in St Andrews were replicated a hundredfold across all of Great Britain. In unprecedented amounts, there was a great show of patriotism as the Union Jack was displayed in multiple formats — flags, hats, pins, mugs, and shirts just to name a few. A national newspaper on Saturday ran with the headline ‘A Great Day to be British’ and one couldn’t help but be impressed by the display of tradition in Friday’s ceremony.
Separate from demonstrations of Britishness, memorabilia of the Royal Wedding has been vast — scarves, knitting patterns, plates, tea cups, gnomes — anything with Will and Kate was consumed by the public as a way to remember this historic event (or, ironically, as a way to signify non-interest in the event). What was on offer ranged from the beautiful to the banal. We could dismiss this as good marketers playing on the heightened emotions of the moment. Or see it as bad taste. However, is there something more going on? Is there more to be considered for the place of memorabilia in our lives? Does this action of remembering have a place within Christian practice? A few thoughts to that end.
I start with the obvious. Memorabilia primarily serves as an aid to remembering. I start here because memorabilia is often judged as being aesthetically deficient, which then levies judgment upon the person who purchased the item. Rather, an item’s capacity to call up memories of an event, a shared moment, or a life-changing experience is surely its purpose and how it should be considered. For example, the screen-printed tea towel that I now own will not only remind me of the day of the Royal Wedding in years to come. It will also serve to conjure up memories of friends and my overall experience of being at St Andrews. Secondly, memorabilia provides a means by which we can intentionally make a claim on a particular memory or experience. The decision to purchase memorabilia is an intentional decision to remember the moment attached to the item. Perhaps we are just victims of good marketing in our purchasing. Or perhaps good marketers realise that we want to remember our good experiences and they have capitalised on those moments.
Christianity is not without its ‘memorabilia’, much of which is (perhaps rightly) disparaged for its banality. However, is there something more there? Do Christians just inherently have undeveloped and therefore bad taste when it comes to what they choose to remind them of their faith? Or have we stopped at the aesthetic assessment and missed how the objects could act as a visual reminder of a deeper truth? Could the accessibility of the ‘memorabilia’ be a means by which deeper reflection is given to the complexity and mystery of the Gospel?