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The Red Cup Controversy

If you’re a coffee fanatic like my fiancé is, you’ve probably been following the Starbucks controversy. Oh, and I can bet even if you only step into a Starbucks twice a year to buy a Frappuccino like I do, you have probably still heard something about the Red Cup controversy.

Allow me to recap:  For Starbucks, the annual reveal of their "red cup" is meant to signify that the holiday season is approaching. Instead, it's stirring up some controversy.

The iconic red cup has featured several winter-themed designs since it first appeared in 1997. From minimalist snowflakes and hand-drawn reindeer to a winking snowman and decorative ornaments, each year the design is distinctive and different from the last.

This year's design is simplistic: an ombre from bright red to dark cranberry. While some Twitter users have praised the minimalist design, others think the cups are a "war on Christmas." Starbucks, however, retains that their cups were meant to be a blank canvas for customers to create their own stories, inspired by the doodles and designs that customers have drawn on white cups for years. (source: CNBC)

My Thoughts: As a Christian who loves Christmas, I’m not offended at all. I actually think the company is being genuine when they say they want consumers to express themselves creatively on their cups. It’s absolutely ridiculous that just because the popular red cup we all have come to love doesn’t say the words “Christmas” or have a snowflake or reindeer designed on it, some fans are angry and ready to boycott the coffee shop. As if the color red isn’t enough to at least show the company is recognizing a transition into the Holiday season. Yes, I said it. HOLIDAY SEASON!

As a PR professional, allow me tell you what Starbucks wants to say but can’t say. A company the size of Starbucks appeals to all cultures, ethnicities and religions. The correct journalism/PR term to address “Christmas Season” is to say the “Holiday Season” because it’s inclusive rather than excludes consumers who do not necessarily celebrate Christmas. It allows you to appeal to a broader spectrum while inviting new customers who may want to participate in the “HOLIDAY” festivities. Everyone celebrates the holiday season, not everyone celebrates Christmas. The obvious response to this “PR rule” is “well, if you’re a Christian organization, you can and should say Christmas.” Or “Don’t patronize what you and most of your customers believe because you want to keep all your customers and make more money.” Duh, who doesn’t want their business to thrive? A company choosing not to blatantly say “Merry Christmas” doesn’t automatically mean that organization hates Christians or what Christmas is suppose to mean.

As a Christian, my question to fellow believers is, why can’t we focus more on the positive reasons why an organization will use “Holiday Season” rather than “Christmas?" It shows a willingness to include others (for good or bad reasons, who cares? You can choose to see the good and not the bad). So what if they didn’t even recognize the Holiday season at all? Would that make it any better or worse? It doesn’t always have to be a “war on Christmas” if an organization isn’t using the term or depicting a westernized myth that claims snowflakes and reindeers are accurate depictions of Baby Jesus being born of a virgin.

Maybe there’s a chance that someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas actually walks into a Starbucks. Maybe there’s a chance they felt they could walk into a Starbucks because Christians weren’t judging him or her just because he or she doesn’t share the same beliefs. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance a non-believer at your job gets to work and there’s a red cup from Starbucks sitting on his desk with a sincere hand-written note from a colleague ending with “Merry Christmas.” And maybe, there’s a chance your colleague reads the note on the cup, drinks that warm coffee and feels loved because a Christian cared about him as a human. Isn’t that what Christmas and Christianity is all about? Isn’t Christmas about love? Isn’t that the reason why we want to invite all our friends (believers and non-believers) to church for Christmas programs? Doesn’t it feel good to include others and share the birth of Christ with them? You and I know it’s Christmas. We know what we believe. God sees our heart. It shouldn’t take an organization we support to blatantly use the words “ Merry Christmas” or to decorate the store in snowflakes to define who we are as Christians and what we believe. Drinking from a cup that says "Merry Christmas" sure doesn't make you a Christian. 

I’m not familiar with the history of Starbucks to know whether or not they claim to be a Christian organization, but from the little research I’ve done, they’ve released a winter-themed cup since 1997, and this is the first time you guys are raging? Why? Because the cups are just red and don’t have snowflakes on them? As if a transition from a bland white cup to a red cup doesn’t make you think of Christmas. If you’re angry because the cup doesn’t depict a snowflake or reindeer, maybe you should revaluate your life and rearrange your priorities. What you need is Jesus, not a snowflake.

God forbid any Christians live in a land where snow doesn’t fall. They might all be going to hell, after all, they know not that Christmas is about snowflakes and reindeer. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

You know the funny part about all of this? While some Starbucks fans a pissed, the company can just sit back and enjoy even higher margins because everyone and their mama are talking about them. Free publicity is the best publicity. You have people who don’t even care for coffee talking about Starbucks. Heck, I might go get a red cup for my fiancé and express myself creatively on it. After all, I like to think I’m very creative, and Starbucks is encouraging me to show off my skills. Happy Holidays.