Starbucks’ War on Christmas

by | Nov 13, 2015 | In the News, Pop Culture

I have been a Starbucks Gold Card member since 2008. I’m still known at the Starbucks at Gonzaga University, even though I moved away five years ago. I measure the time of year by seasonal coffee blends and drinks.

I love Christmas. I love the songs, the colors, the decorations, the trees, the spirit. I love the ice-skaters at Rockefeller Center. And most importantly, I love what Christmas stands for – the coming of Jesus Christ into our world to offer unconditional love.

And I love Christmas at Starbucks. Every year my friends and I text each other with elation on “Red Cup Day.” Yes – Red Cup Day.

Like every other year, I was excited for my first red cup Starbucks drink. Until I got my drink. In a plain red cup… Nothing special. No creative decoration. Just a simple red cup with the green Starbucks logo. Like so many Americans, I was furious!

Ok – let’s call a spade a spade.

The only reason I was upset on red cup day was because the cup was boring. I was comparing this new plain red cup to past red cups, including my favorite Starbucks promotion from 2005. That year, Starbucks marketed its holiday line with the catchy slogan “It Only Happens Once a Year.”

Apparently some other Americans are angry too, but not for design reasons. I can’t open any social media without being bombarded with polemics on Starbucks. People hate the plain red cups. People are asking where the reference to our Christian holiday is. Has Starbucks purposely taken out the design to appeal to a broader audience? Donald Trump has suggested we boycott Starbucks because Starbucks has ushered in a War on Christmas. Even Ellen has taken drastic measures.

Is Trump right? Did Starbucks take off snowmen and stars and sledders from their cups because they hate Christmas?

Does the lack of an ugly snowman (see the 2011 and 2012 cups for an example) compromise our Christian faith?


It seems to me that as we prepare for Christmas with – perhaps ironically – our Starbucks Advent calendar, we might reflect on tensions between our own attachments to corporate global brands and the faith we commit to. At the end of the day, they are only consumer goods, not gods. They offer pleasure, not salvation. Starbucks is in the business of profits, not prophets.

In a spirit of gratitude, let’s thank Starbucks for giving us an invitation this year: rather than relying on Starbucks to keep Christmas holy with ugly snowmen, our challenge seems to be to find the Christ who is born in the world.

Spoiler alert: I bet it won’t be on a red cup from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or any other chain.

That being said, I think I’ll take up that challenge myself – with my favorite holiday Starbucks drink: a grande eight-pump peppermint whole milk with whip latte. In a plain red cup.


Cover image from Flickr Creative Commons user makipapa can be found here.


Lucas Sharma, SJ   /   All posts by Lucas