When I heard about the “Starbucks red cup controversy” I wasn’t very surprised by the red cups, but I was surprised to see the whole thing being referred to as a controversy. Apparently Christians are “outraged” and “offended” by this rather secular business’s decision to be rather secular during the months of November and December.
I’m a Christian and I’m not outraged or offended. Other Christians have spoken up with similar clarifications. We don’t care about the red cups! many of them say. But I’m not sure I would go quite that far.
I have to admit— I do care about the red cups and I don’t even drink from them. But the reason I care about them has nothing to do with being offended.
I think it’s generally understood that this country is not really Christian anymore. So naturally, the typical American Christmas is not really Christian either. This is not a reason for Christians to be offended. Even if it feels like the holiday has been “hijacked” the truth is that every culture borrows and adapts holidays from other cultures. In fact, Christians are particularly famous for borrowing from and adapting pagan holidays. The secular world has borrowed from and adapted Christmas. Starbucks is clearly a part of the secular world. So I shouldn’t expect Starbucks to celebrate a Christian Christmas.
But I still wish they would. Not primarily because I “care about their souls” or because I think the world a better place with Christianity in it. The main reason I wish Starbucks didn’t feel the need to strip their Christmas further and further of any semblance of Christmas is simply because Christmas is wonderful. That’s exactly why it was ever “hijacked” in the first place. Christmas is magical primarily because of its religious suggestion. Christmas brings an other-worldly type joy precisely because it is other-wordly. And when it is no longer other-wordly, it will lose all that joy.
The red cups certainly never had the words to “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” written on them. I’m well aware of that. But the change from adorned to plain red does mean something. After all, why else do it? The Starbucks vice president of design and content, himself, has said that they did it for a reason: “this year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.” In other words, right or wrong, they want Christmas to be even more barebones and devoid of any semblance of Christianity. And I get it. Most people aren’t really celebrating the Christian Christmas. But then why have red cups at all? Why even mildly participate if the participation is going to be so meager and pathetic? What in the world is magical about a Christmas so empty? (And if it’s just family and good food then there’s no need to call it Christmas; just call it Thanksgiving!) I can understand celebrating the Winter Solstice. Snow is very magical. There’s something deeply poetic about the bare trees and the dark nights. But none of that has anything to do with the color red. If you want to have Winter Solstice cups, make them white and silver and release them at the end of December and keep them until February.
If we are going to keep stripping this holiday to unecessary bareness (were polar bears really making people that uncomfortable?) why not get rid of it altogether? Why go on pretending? I used to think it was because even those who weren’t Christian still felt the magic of the holiday. And I think that is often true. But I guarantee it will become less and less true. If we empty it out enough, what is left? I predict that even the family and food will be gone soon. I predict that the secular Christmas will soon become a simple day off celebrated by sleeping in (much like Labor Day or Columbus Day.) Maybe you’ll get some coffee in a red cup. I just have a hard time believing that that will make people feel anything special anymore. Secular Christmas used to retain hints of Christian Christmas. It used to retain hints of the magic. I actually think what is so immediately disheartening about the red cups is their starkness. Starbucks is typically pretty whimsical in its designs. But on these cups there is no inkling of whimsy. There is no inlking of magic whatsoever and no inkling of otherworldliness. That doesn’t make me outraged. It doesn’t offend me. It doesn’t change or affect how I personally celebrate Christmas. It just makes me sad.