Claim:  Starbucks has introduced a new holiday-themed “Christian cup” that reads “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”

Example: [Collected via e-mail, November 2015]

Just wondering if this is true or not.  Appears to be a cup that someone used a pen to decorate then did an article about it.  Would like to know for sure.

Origins: In November 2015, a (largely manufactured) social media controversy erupted over whether that year’s version of Starbucks’ plain red holiday cups invoked the correct degree of Christmas sentiment. On 15 November 2015 the web site QPolitical published an article titled “Starbucks Just Released A Christian Cup, You’ll Never Guess What’s On It,” reporting that:

Some groups have also been posting things saying that “it’s just a cup” and that Christians should not worry about what a company does. Especially when it is not a Christian brand … but today it seems like Starbucks wants to send a message to Americans and let us know that they really do love Christmas.

Upon closer inspection it seems like there are a lot of references to the Bible and Christmas.

The article included images of Starbucks’ purported “Christian cup,” which appeared to read “Happy Birthday, Jesus” and feature a Nativity scene:

  starbucks christian cup 2 starbucks christian cup 1 starbucks christian cup 3

As many commenters observed, the photographs of the pupative Starbucks cup didn’t appear to have been professionally printed. The artwork depicted looked more like a mere hand-drawn addition to the extant red cup than an official variation on Starbucks’ holiday branding.

The first mention of the design occurred on QPolitical on 15 November 2015, and all subsequent iterations cited that web site as the source for the claim. However, QPolitical offered no source (either official or anecdotal) to support their initial assertion that Starbucks “just introduced” a new cup design.

Two official Starbucks Twitter accounts made no mention of the supposed cup, and we were unable to locate any appearance of the images prior to the publication of the QPolitical article. If Starbucks “released” the cup, surely the brand itself would have attempted in some way to promote the design on one of their many official social media channels.

We scrolled through several hours’ worth of posts to Starbucks’ wall on 16 November 2015 in an attempt to locate any further images of the “Christian cup.” While a large number of social media users registered displeasure at the temperature of their beverage that day (and some shared photos of cup drawings), none referenced or shared photos of the cup. Had the “release” occurred, customers would likely be documenting the design via social media shares.

Last updated: 16 November 2015

Originally published: 16 November 2015