Controversial

The Red Cups Are Coming!

Without having to think about it, what are the “Christmas colors?”

Red and green, of course. This is a known thing, with a historical explanation.

Might you consider, therefore, branded paper coffee containers that are colored red and green and served specifically during the holiday season as “Christmas cups?”

You might; you might not; you might not care either way.

You know who does care, though — in one particular (negative) direction — very, very much?

People who like to be angry on the Internet.

In late October, Starbucks unveiled this year’s version of its holiday season cups: The design was (and is) a simple, solid red, offset by the green company logo at the center.

Red and green = Christmas colors; red and green cups = Christmas cups.

And then nothing happened. Some people drank coffee if they wanted to, and the story ends here because we’re dealing with colors on a piece of paper.

Hahahaha, of course, that’s not true, because Internet and apoplectic unreason.

On Nov. 5, self-described “social media personality” (a noun phrase that seems to want so badly to be a verb) Joshua Feuerstein posted a self-shot video (starring himself, natch, and co-starring his backwards baseball cap) to Facebook in which he, standing just outside a Starbucks location, claims that the company — because it did not opt for a holiday cup design that included illustrations of snowmen, ornaments or holly (as its seasonal cups have in past years) — “hate[s] Jesus.”

In the video’s description, Feuerstein specifically attests (in capital letters: the only letter case for real point-makers™) that Starbucks “REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups.” His video — which, as of yesterday (Nov. 11), had over 15.7 million views — and its call for Christians to “trick” Starbucks into recognizing Christmas by giving their name to Starbucks employees as “Merry Christmas” — therefore obligating the employees to write that phrase (or at least “Mary Christmas,” because that might seem more like a real name) on their coffee cups — has become something of a (woefully misguided) rallying cry among a small-but-vocal, extreme faction of Christian consumers in the U.S. who perceive the lack of the word “Christmas,” in writing, on the Starbucks cup as part of a larger “War on Christmas” that is taking place in the country.

Even the world’s wealthiest and least self-aware Oompa Loompa, Donald Trump, has jumped on the (again — woefully misguided) bandwagon by publicly pondering boycotting Starbucks because of the cups.

Why “woefully misguided?”

Even disregarding the myriad evidence that there is not, never has been and never will be anything approaching a “War on Christmas” in the United States and that such a thing really only exists in the minds of those who suffer from delusions of persecution and — to a lesser but far more nefarious extent — those who profit from inciting those delusions, Starbucks did not remove Christmas from its cups; that’s an impossibility because — unless one (as many people do, though clearly not any in Feuerstein’s camp) considers red and green together as signifying Christmas — Starbucks never had Christmas on its cups.

As aforementioned, previous incarnations of the Starbucks holiday cup have featured holiday-esque imagery, as well as words such as “joy” and “hope.” Vox helpfully presents depictions of every annual Starbucks holiday cup dating back to 2009 and — lo and be-ho-ho-hold — determines that not one of them ever included the word “Christmas” (attached to “Merry” or otherwise).

(Do you know where “Christmas” does decidedly appear in Starbucks, which, it’s worth noting, does not identify as a Christian company? On its “Christmas Blend” coffee and K-Cup packs, its Advent calendar, its “Merry Christmas” gift card and its Christmas tree ornament — all available for purchase from Starbucks throughout the holiday season.)

Starbucks — along with every other business operating in the United States — has no obligation, legal or otherwise, to promote any one particular religious holiday or tradition over another — or any at all, of course. Were the company, on the contrary (and as the likes of Feuerstein might nudge towards implying), refusing service to customers on the basis of their individual religious beliefs, they would be out of bounds.

Although the company did refute, to The Atlantic, Feuerstein’s claim that Starbucks employees aren’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas” to customers (no such policy exists), Starbucks could have just as well done nothing in response to the non-controversy around its cups and allowed Feuerstein’s big plan of attack — at the center of which is the purchase of a Starbucks coffee (and whose final phase includes sharing the brand on social media with a hashtag) — actually drum up business.

This “battle” — which only appears as a genuine conflict if you cover your ears and look at it with your eyes crossed — isn’t being fought by the retailers nor is it taking place at their stores. It’s being carried out solely where it began — on social media, among consumers. While some continue to forward Feuerstein’s baseless rabble-rousing on social platforms, a large percentage of people have adopted the #merrychristmasstarbucks movement as a means of mocking it. Never mind the fact that a majority of Christians find what Feuerstein is attempting to be much ado about nothing (and an embarrassment to their religion), even staunchly conservative publication The Federalist weighed in — in the same piece insisting that the “War on Christmas” is totally a real thing — to distance true Christianity from what “some Christian shock jock” (somewhere, Dan Cortese’s manager’s phone just rang) is espousing.

With so much attention being given to what people from a wide range of perspectives agree is essentially pointless, one almost can’t fault Dunkin’ Donuts for leaning into that paradox a scooch and allowing the media (social and traditional) to put forth the notion that its holiday cups — which are decorated with images of holly surrounding the word “Joy” — were this year designed and released specifically as a counterpoint to the Starbucks cup to pull Christian traditionalist consumers away from its competitor.

By remaining silent about those intonations, Dunkin’ Donuts avoids having to point out that its holiday cup looks exactly the same this year as it has every year previous.

Starbucks intended no controversy when it released its holiday cup, and Dunkin’ Donuts has been releasing the same holiday cup every year … but both companies are now benefiting from a great deal of attention — and potential increased business — as a result of consumers jumping to conclusions about the brands’ intentions with little to no consideration for the facts.

If retailers are going to receive business as a gift, it might as well happen around the holidays.

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