Starbucks' Red Cups Have Some Christians Upset, But Is The Lack Of A Christmas Theme Really A Problem?

This November 9, 2015 photo shows the 2014(R) and 2015 Starbucks holiday cups in Washington, DC. The unadorned 2015 red cup which debuted November 1 came under fire for its lack of design. Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season, the company wrote in a press release. Starbucks will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world.AFP PHOTO/ KAREN BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

When Starbucks switched to a minimalist holiday cup, they probably didn't anticipate the design causing a huge uproar, but then where's the fun in life being predictable? Currently, Christians are protesting Starbucks' 2015 red holiday cups — but the backlash and protests strike me as little, well, odd. Is the design of a Starbucks cup really worth so much controversy? And does Christmas really need this kind of defending?

Looking at the backlash, it's evident that this isn't just about the minimalist design of the cups. For decades now, there have been controversies around the public celebration and recognition of Christmas. Should a town be allowed to have a nativity scene on public land? Should companies ask their employees to say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas"? Should malls have Christmas trees? On their own, none of these issues seems like a big deal, but taken together, they create a pattern, a pattern in which it seems to many that overt recognition of Christmas is being treated as a bad thing — which is how we wind up with things like the Fox News "War on Christmas" segments and protests of holiday cups at Starbucks. While it might seem bizarre that a basic red cup design could make people think Starbucks is "anti-Christian," it's worth considering the context in which it's all happening.

In a statement provided to Bustle's sister site, Romper, a Starbucks spokesperson said, "Our core values as a company are to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity. Each year during the holidays we aim to bring our customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season and we will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world."

So: Are people right to be upset?

While I'm not insensitive to the fact that many people do feel upset about this, trying to claim that Starbucks is anti-Christmas is frankly preposterous. There might not be any overtly Christmas-themed images on the red cups this year, but Starbucks still sells a Christmas blend coffee, a Christmas tree ornament, and an advent calendar. When a company is willing to sell you something whose entire purpose is to count down the days to Christmas with chocolate, I think it's safe to say they aren't anti-Christmas.

And here we come to what I think is the fundamental misunderstanding surrounding many of these Christmas controversies. 

Many people seem to think that the 2015 red cup design is a sign that Starbucks somehow doesn't like Christmas or that the company is afraid to be associated with it — as is evidenced by calls for people to buy Starbucks and give their name as "Merry Christmas," thereby "forcing" Starbucks baristas to write "Merry Christmas" on the cups. But the problem with this is that the cup design isn't at all meant to spite Christmas or Christians. Indeed, the whole purpose of the blank cup is to give customers a canvas on which to tell their own holiday stories, whether those "holiday stories" are Christmas stories, Hannukah stories, non-denominational stories, or any other of the literally countless kinds of stories out there. Starbucks has supported the beautiful art that customers have created on the standard white cups in the past, even running a contest inviting customers to decorate the cups in 2014; the subtle ombre red cup, meanwhile, is an extension of this support for creativity. Said Starbucks Vice President of Design & Content Jeffrey Fields in a press release about the 2015 design, "In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."

Often, the rhetoric around any effort to scale back on the public celebration of Christmas makes it seem as though it is part of some sort of bias against the holiday and against the people who celebrate it, especially devout Christians. But this obscures the fact that Christmas right now is everywhere and that scaling back might not be the worst idea. 

The reason there is so much effort to cut back on the amount of Christmas we have floating around is because there is already so much freaking Christmas. People who want less Christmas don't hate the holiday and certainly don't hate Christians. (In fact, why anyone wants their religious or spiritual beliefs to be so intimately tied to the shallow, often garish, capitalist spectacle that Christmas has become in the United States is also confusing to me.) People who want less Christmas typically just don't think we need an entire two months in which virtually everything revolves around this holiday. Furthermore, not everyone in the country celebrates Christmas in the first place, either because they're not Christian or because they're just not that into Christmas itself.

In other words, I think people are picturing this:

When really, it's a little more like this:

And the Starbucks cups are a good example. Does anyone really think Starbucks, with their array of Christmas products and their Christmas-colored cups are really anti-Christmas because they've opted not to put "Merry Christmas" on them?

Christmas is not a persecuted holiday; indeed, according to a 2014 Pew study, 78 percent of the country identifies as Christian, making those who practice the religion and celebrate the holiday the majority. If there ever was a "War on Christmas," Christmas won years ago. And examples of Christmas being maybe scaled back just a tad to make room for the other 22 percent of the country who don't identify as Christian are not in any way attacks, either on Christmas or the people who celebrate it. 

I can understand why Christians might feel sensitive about perceived "attacks" on one of their holidays. However, we live in a multi-cultural society. A company like Starbucks, which is not a Christian company and doesn't cater solely or specifically to Christians, is perfectly within their rights not to put messages about a Christian holiday on their products, or to sell any Christmas-themed products at all. And Christians who take issue with this should understand that acting as though it's an attack for Starbucks to not include Christmas on their cups comes across as ridiculous at best to people whose religious holidays have never, ever received even half the same amount of attention. The cups are a much-needed effort at inclusion — not exclusion.

So maybe we can just all try to enjoy our Christmas blend coffee from our plain red cups while listening to Christmas music and contemplating how much time we still have to buy our Christmas presents in peace. 

Images: Giphy (4)

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