Starbucks red cups are not killing Christmas

This week, an Internet movement claimed that Starbucks is killing Christmas. This murder is done via their seasonal red cups, which, up until this year, were adorned with Christmas icons like snowflakes. This season’s mug is just red, with no white Christmas images.

I’m sure most of you have heard about this incident, but for those just tuning into this controversy many of the initial voices protesting the new cup were Christians making arguments about ‘Christ’ being taken out of Christmas. A number of arguments and angles have been taken about the ridiculous nature of these claims and I don’t feel the need to add too much to that discussion. If you want to learn more, google “Starbucks red cups.”

This controversy has made it very apparent that people are passionate about both Starbucks and Christmas, two things I also love. However, while these are topics worthy of passionate conversations, the streams of this particular conversation address a number of very real issues, but not well or directly.

A larger issue here is the commercialization of Christmas. This is not a new issue or an issue under-discussed, but the fact that Christians care so much about what is put on their coffee cups and whether they are Christmas-y enough demonstrates how much they have bought into the commercialization of Christmas.

It is not the goal of secular businesses to tell the story of Christ and Christmas; their goal is to make money. And they do make billions of dollars off of Christmas. Christians are supporters of this mentality by buying gifts at Christmas and buying coffee because the cups fit the Christmas spirit.

If Christians want to put Christ back into Christmas, they need to not forget the meaning of Christmas for themselves. I am not arguing against buying Christmas gifts, participating in Christmas events or against buying Starbucks. I simply want to point out that Christians caring about whether the red cup has a snowman on it misses the point.

A last point I want to make is the role of marketing in this situation. The reason Starbucks changes their cups to red around Christmas time is a marketing decision designed to gain traffic and awareness for their business. While gift giving is supposed to remind us about the wise men, the reason we buy special food, decorations and large gifts for everyone we know is because of good marketing tactics.

Marketers have been convincing people that gifts are an essential Christmas tradition since the turn of the 20th century. In 1904 Margaret Deland wrote in Harper’s Bazaar, “Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash.”

The ironic thing about this controversy is that some Christians are in an uproar about Starbucks not marketing Christmas the way they think Starbucks should. What’s more, the symbols on the cups in previous years were never specifically Christian symbols. The red cup has sported snowflakes, ornaments, snowmen and ribbons, but never a nativity scene.

People need to be careful about what they are actually upset about and fuel that toward the appropriate topics. While passionate arguments about a solid red cup are entertaining to follow, they do not address what people actually care about: the commercialization of Christmas. In fact, they add to the problem.