Column: Red cups and the myth of the 'War on Christmas'

A barista reaches for a red paper cup as more, with cardboard liners already attached, line the top of an espresso machine at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Last week, the conservative Christian community placed the world’s largest coffeehouse in their sights, vilifying Starbucks and their choice of a religiously-neutral red holiday cup.

The fringes of the Christian community have once again succeeded in tainting the minds of the general American-Christian population, bolstering the myth of a “War on Christmas” and the marginalization of Christians. The decision to remove traditionally Christmas-centric themes (e.g. reindeer and ornaments) from holiday cups stems from Starbucks’ desire to invite “customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas.”

To rally against a coffeehouse for not assuming that all customers put up a Christmas tree is another in a long line of baseless arguments from this fringe, who seem concerned only with upholding their personal religious freedom, while writing off the religious beliefs of others, even in a nation whose foundation is etched with the principle of religious freedom.

According to coverage from The Atlantic, conservative evangelical Joshua Feuerstein launched an online tirade against Starbucks and their new holiday cup, saying “Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ, and Christmas, off of their brand-new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red.” As noted by the Washington Post, contrary to his claims, Starbucks has never featured a depiction of Christ on their cups.

Instead of relying on factual information, Feuerstein transforms myths into reality by highlighting trespasses against the Christian community that never occurred. Feuerstein also neglects to mention the shelves of Christmas Blend coffee, Christmas tree ornaments, as well as advent calendars for sale at Starbucks locations. Such sales should be non-existent if Starbucks were attempting to join in on the fictional “War on Christmas.”  

This backlash represents a small minority sect of a majority attempting to take their views mainstream, and convince the public that the American-Christian hegemony is under assault from a coalition of consumers, corporations and government. They will argue until blue in the face that Christianity is under attack; however, the evidence they cite is inevitably evidence of society progressing to a point in which all faiths are treated with more respect and acceptance. This self-deception must end, lest real progress and openness halt. 

These fringe fundamentalists are seeking power to strengthen their ideas and self-promote, and so attempt to mold the minds of susceptible individuals by spewing fear of a “War on Christmas” that does not exist, singling out this decision to create a blank canvas in order to paint progress as regress. In his inaugural address, President Carter implored Americans to “learn together and laugh together and work together and pray together, confident that in the end we will triumph together in the right.” Those who trade in the same snake oil as Feuerstein impede this vision, and severely restrict America’s capacity to work towards forging a truly united populace.

A report from the Huffington Post reflected upon a similar controversy. In the 1960s, Crayola renamed their “flesh” crayon to “peach” in realization of the assumptions made after students were observed “teasing darker-skinned classmates who didn't match the crayon.” Producing a holiday cup with Christian-centric themes provides a similar, tacit assumption of the correctness of one religion. Christianity may be the statistically dominant religion in America, yet it is not the state religion, nor is it the sole faith. Moving to a plain red cup represents the very best intentions of a corporation, which has proclaimed its intent to consider all their customers’ beliefs of equal value, and support “a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.”

This is not PC-policing. This is the rational and thoughtful decision of a corporation whose reach extends far into neighborhoods and nations in which Christmas trees do not light living rooms in December. 

Those who are denigrating Starbucks and spreading fear of a “War on Christmas” should look to scripture for guidance: Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

In a time of deep division, why continue to seek out new false concerns to widen the societal chasm? Why turn a decision promoting respect into a contrived outrage? People like Feuerstein should shed such vile conceit. In rallying against the decision to remove Christmas-themed graphics from Starbucks’ holiday cup, these fundamentalists are not only failing to follow the very book they embrace, but are attempting to deceive their fellow man.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.