‘War On Christmas’ Apparently Now Being Fought With Coffee Cups

You may not be aware, but your local Starbucks is the new front in the 'War On Christmas.'

Starbucks Holiday Cups 2015

The 2015 holiday season has barely begun and the first shots in the War On Christmas have already been fired in the form of Starbucks coffee cups:

Some people are angry about Starbucks’ new holiday cups. Really angry.

What is the issue, exactly?

In previous years, Starbucks’ iconic holiday cups, which the chain uses in lieu of white cups in November and December, featured wintry or Christmas-themed designs like snowflakes, ornaments and nature scenes. This year, the cups are more minimalist – a red ombre design that Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ vice president of design, said was meant to embrace “the simplicity and the quietness” of the holiday season.

This is a huge problem for some people, who feel that the plain red cups are oppressing Christians by insulting Christmas.

“This is a denial of historical reality and the great Christian heritage behind the American Dream that has so benefitted Starbucks,” Andrea Williams of the U.K.-based organization Christian Concern told Breitbart. “This also denies the hope of Jesus Christ and His story so powerfully at this time of year.”


To clarify, it’s not like the previous cups were decked out in crosses and mangers. It’s unclear why a drawing of a winking snowman or a dog sledding, for instance, is more “Christian” than a plain red and green (you know, Christmas colors) cup.

But either way, angry Starbucks patrons have a solution. Former pastor Joshua Feuerstein claimed in a viral Facebook video that he had “pranked” Starbucks by simply telling them his name was “Merry Christmas” — thus forcing the surely unimpressed barista to write the words “Merry Christmas” on the cup.

Feuerstein also noted that he brought a gun into the coffee shop, in spite of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’ request that patrons leave their firearms at home. Ho ho, good one!

In the video, Feuerstein encouraged people to similarly claim that their names are “Merry Christmas” and to use the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks. Social media users have been expressing their support for the “prank,”

The 2015 version of the cups, which I first noticed in my local Starbucks on November 1st, can be seen in the photograph at the top of the post, and here’s what they looked like last year:

Starbucks Holiday Cups 2014

As you can see, the main difference between this year’s cup and last years, which is similar to designs used in the past is the fact that the cups are now plain red without designs depicting something reflecting a snowflake or a reindeer or some other generic symbol of the holiday season or just winter in general. None of these symbols, of course, have anything to do with the religious nature of Christmas, and Starbucks has apparently never used holiday cups that have designs that could even remotely considered religious. Considering the fact that the company caters to customers who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, members of any of the other numbers of faiths that have found a home in the United States, atheist or agnostic, or simply people who don’t celebrate Christmas for personal reasons, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t use explicitly religious symbols. Despite all of this, some group of people has decided that they’re going to be offended by coffee cups, because there’s nothing more important to worry about in the world today.

Not every Christian is going crazy over coffee cups, of course For example, Rev. Emily Heath of the United Church of Christ finds the entire thing utterly ridiculous:

Apparently people are mad that the seasonal cups at Starbucks this year are just plain red. No mention of Christmas or Jesus at all. And, clearly that means that Christians are being persecuted. I mean, my faith is just destroyed if I don’t get my Venti Blonde Roast with room for milk in a cup that features the name of my Lord and Savior.

So, obviously I think this is a little ridiculous. Because, Christians, I promise you that Starbucks red cups are not going to destroy the Christian faith. Seriously, the Roman Empire couldn’t do it, and they could kill you with lions. And I don’t think Starbucks has the death penalty. Yet.

But it’s even more ridiculous to me because of the timing this year. I’m kind of baffled because it’s early November. And it seems to me that people of faith, people who should be keenly aware of the grace God has given us, should be focused on the holiday that is coming up in just a few weeks: the one where we say “thank you, God”.

When Christians start to lose sight of gratitude and instead develop a major persecution complex then we have a huge faith crisis on our hands that is far bigger than whether the red cups at Starbucks make any reference to Jesus.

This year we didn’t even wait until Advent to start claiming persecution. We are joining the rest of the world in skipping right over Thanksgiving, and we are joining the Christmas rush. We are spoiling for a fight and those red cups are just the thing to give it to us.

We’re kind of like the religious equivalent those Black Friday shoppers who trample other Black Friday shoppers in order to get a good deal on a flat screen TV. We are so incensed by any perceived omission of our personal faith from the public sphere that we go on a rampage. Except instead of other shoppers, we just trample things like inclusivity, diversity, tolerance, and pluralism instead.

And you don’t get a TV in the end either. In fact, now you can’t even get a latte. (Not if you are boycotting Starbucks, anyway.) Really, all you get is the smug satisfaction of knowing that you are part of a dominant faith that can try to impose it’s religion on coffee drinkers everywhere.

Heath, of course, is absolutely correct and I doubt that the people expressing outrage over this alleged are actually as offended as they claim to be. Instead, what we’re seeing here is just this year’s first example of the “War On Christmas” nonsense that, thanks to Fox News Channel and other corners of conservative media, has become an annual tradition here in the United States. Jon Stewart had particular fun mocking this meme on The Daily Show over the years, with this perhaps being one of the better examples of that satire:

While this entire “War On Christmas” meme is obviously ridiculous, especially since if there is a “war” on Christmas it’s obvious that Christmas has one judging by the fact that the “holiday” season seems to start earlier and earlier every year, it is part of a larger phenomenon on the right that plays itself out on the political stage. To listen to the rhetoric of Republican candidates for President such as Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and others, we are living in a country where the religious liberties of Christians are increasingly being attacked by things such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Obamacare birth control mandate, and laws barring discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, you still here politicians from that wing of conservatism argue in favor of things such as prayer in public schools, giving “equal time” to discredited ideas like creationism in science classrooms, public subsidies for religious schools as part of school choice programs that are otherwise acceptable as long as tax money doesn’t go to religious instruction, and other issues where they claim religion is being removed from the public square. It is a persecution complex on their part that largely has no basis in reality of course, and the fact that at least some Christian Americans feel the need to start pointing at things like the fact that a store employee says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or the design of a coffee cup just demonstrates how ridiculous it actually is. For many people, though, this persecution complex resonates as a political issue, and that’s why you see something like this become an issue, because it reinforces the false meme that a person’s faith is being attacked.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. An Interested Party says:

    These people remind me of homophobes who are just so scared of gay people…in both cases we have people who are so unsure of themselves and their beliefs that they have to project hostility towards others…of course I’m sure there’s quite an overlap of people who are homophobic and who think there’s some alleged “War on Christmas”…

  2. al-Ameda says:

    “This is a denial of historical reality and the great Christian heritage behind the American Dream that has so benefitted Starbucks,” Andrea Williams of the U.K.-based organization Christian Concern told Breitbart. “This also denies the hope of Jesus Christ and His story so powerfully at this time of year.”

    Hahahahaha …. Well, it just wouldn’t be Christmas if conservatives weren’t complaining about a non-existent War on Christmas. The true message of Christmas is: “try not to max out your credit cards,” and then there’s “so, are we ready for the next War on Easter?”

  3. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    I boycott Starbucks all the time–but it’s because I don’t like their coffee. I hope I’m not going to have to start patronizing them to oppose the protesters. And as a Christian who happens to also support the notion of a “naked public square,” allow me to endorse that the complaints of a “war on Christmas are grossly exaggerated and misplaced. We lost Christmas to the shopping malls decades ago and it was our own fault for seeing the ubiquity of Christmas as a “victory.”

  4. Anjin-san says:

    If you want to honor Jesus, spend Christmas tending to the sick and poor.

  5. Gustopher says:

    As a non-Christian, I look at the coffee cups and think “Do they have to rub their damn holiday in my face?”

    Perhaps I am a crotchety areligious nutjob, but I want to be able to drink my eggnog latte* in peace without everything being about Jesus. I suppose I should be grateful, though, since the Christians haven’t started the scorched earth campaign of playing Bob Dylan’s Christmas Album in every store across the land.

    * I’m pretty sure the Starbucks eggnog latte contains neither egg nor nog.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Pfui. If there’s a war on Christmas, Christmas is winning. Not only is it still an official holiday here in the United States but it’s a public holiday in many of the countries of the world including countries in which only a minority of the people are Christians. For example, it’s a public holiday in South Korea where about 30% of the people are Christians. It’s a public holiday in India.

    Off-hand, I’d say that more than half of the people in the world live in countries where Christmas is a public holiday. Add to that countries like Japan where it’s a sort of commercial holiday and I’d say that Christmas has the war in the bag.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    Hmmm… I’m beginning to think we have a legitimate case of “both sides do it” here. These so called Christians are spending their days searching frantically for the next imagined slight against their values because they get off on self righteousness. And nowadays so called progressives (especially college age ones) are frantically searching for the next imagined slight against… well you get then idea. In one case it’s Starbucks’ red cups and in the other it’s someone dressing as Kanye or Pocahontas for Halloween. But I think those of us who have a bit more perspective, conservative, progressive, liberal, Republican or Democrat, can agree that they are just a pain in the a** to be around.

    One of the few flashes of wisdom via self examination I’ve had in my life was when I realized I never felt so purely right as when I was angry. Even when a few days later in a calmer mode I would realize I was completely wrong. Or didn’t even understand the issue enough to be either right or wrong…

  8. Argon says:

    The birth of Christ is a pretty low-significance event for Christianity. It’s more of an attempt to Christianize what was a pagan holiday.

    It pales in significance to Easter yet we don’t hear a peep about a ‘war on Easter’. That and their participation in the marketing of what has become a holiday for consumption suggests that the ‘War on Christmas’ folks don’t know their heads from their asses about their own professed religion.

  9. PJ says:

    How about a compromise? Jesus, Santa, and the original Starbucks logo? (Warning: original logo may be NSFW if John Ashcroft is your employer.)

  10. Grumpy Realist says:

    This is the sort of stuff that makes me wish one of my friends had managed to grab the PARCO holiday poster he once saw, back in the late 70s in Japan:

    A crucified Santa Claus.

    (I kid you not. Among us old Japan hands, there has always been a rumour that one of the Japanese department stores had done this–but my friend is the only contact I’ve ever had who claims to have actually seen it.)

  11. M. Bouffant says:

    Remember “The Reason for the Season”? Christian leaders decrying the crass, vulgar commercialization of Christmas? Now, if they aren’t greeted pseudo-religiously just as they wish in the temples of commodity fetishism we might as well be nailing Christ to the cross again.

    Another sign of how conservative attitudes & ideals have pretty much done a 180 over the last half-century.

    And just so stupid! As Doug notes, the cups have never had anything but Commercial Xmas images on them, mostly inspired by the pagan celebrations of winter the Christians have been trying to co-opt for yrs.

    The entire thing is as shallow & w/o substance as complaints that the President didn’t wear a flag pin, or doesn’t do a Chicken Little impression while shouting TERROR! every time anything happens. In other words, it’s like almost all right-wing politics, mere surface, & virtually w/o meaning, point or useful purpose.

  12. Tyrell says:

    The cups look Christmas to me: red, green, white. They look nice, certainly seasonal.
    I will tell you what is not nice: stores playing Christmas music in October. Not cool. Also, those horrible Christmas themed sweaters and sweatshirts. And fruitcake: not nice at all, ought to be banned.

  13. M. Bouffant says:

    @Grumpy Realist: You might want to look at this, not the same, but

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @M. Bouffant:
    For what it’s worth, link above is strongly recommended.

  15. JKB says:

    Looks like a hot cup version of the red SOLO cup with a Starbucks logo. So if anyone should be offended, it would be those Starbucks customers who can’t bear the thought of appearing redneck.

  16. Kylopod says:

    The birth of Christ is a pretty low-significance event for Christianity. It’s more of an attempt to Christianize what was a pagan holiday.

    Easter was too, actually. It was a combination of the Jewish Passover with a pagan fertility rite that predated the birth of Christ by several centuries.

  17. Matt says:

    @JKB: That was my first thought too.

    “oh wow starbucks is going solo cup style”.

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    The real religion in the US is the worship of money, so it makes perfect sense that the main ‘religious’ holiday is observed mostly as a shopping event.

  19. Facebones says:

    I’m going to steal a comment I saw about this on Jezebel.com:

    Remember kids: Black Lives Matter is a bunch of whiners who are looking for reasons to be offended. The real oppression is a lack of Christmas iconography on your coffee cups.

  20. DrDaveT says:


    Perhaps I am a crotchety areligious nutjob, but I want to be able to drink my eggnog latte in peace without everything being about Jesus.

    I couldn’t agree more… but what do snowflakes and pine trees have to do with Jesus?

    I mean, seriously, it’s like the same Christians who complain that Halloween is “Satanism” turning around and complaining when someone stops airing the Charlie Brown special with The Great Pumpkin…

  21. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Maybe we could get some long cross shaped coffee stirrers… That way these martyrs can show their heavy burden.


  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’m sure I speak for Reynolds as well in saying it’s great not to have to worry about there ever being a War on Hanukkah.

    I can’t imagine giving much of a damn about it even if there were such a thing. Some people evidently can’t function unless they’re offended about something 24/7.

  23. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I get a kick out of them boycotting Halloween because it’s a “pagan” holiday, then they turn around and throw up a pagan “Christmas” tree in their houses.

  24. JWH says:

    “I like it better with Christmas decorations,” “It just doesn’t feel like a Christmas cup to me without some designs,” and “I don’t like minimalist Christmas design” are all valid criticisms, even if somebody else disagrees. “THIS IS A WAR ON CHRISTMAS” and “STARBUCKS IS GIVING IN TO THE SECULAR PROGRESSIVISTS!!!” just make me think the speaker needs special holiday treats from Colorado.

  25. Mr. Prosser says:

    It’s easy to mock the Christian booboisie but the real question to ask about the “war” is Cui Bono?
    Follow the money to Joshua Feuerstein and his ilk (Hi, Bill!).

  26. gVOR08 says:

    Yesterday I thought this was a silly story. Some low rent itinerant holy roller preacher looking for his fifteen minutes of fame. It’s still a silly nothingburger story, but now it’s in Trump’s stump speech. ‘Should we boycott Starbucks, I dunno.’