Fact Check

The War on Christmas Cups

While the 2015 Starbucks Holiday Cups feature a plain red design and no Christmas symbols, this is not proof that the coffee chain has an anti-Christian attitude.

Published Nov 5, 2015

The coffee chain Starbucks removed all mentions of Christmas from their red holiday cups because "they hate Jesus."

The Starbucks coffee chain's use of special holiday cups during the November-December timeframe is an annual tradition that dates to 1997. Each year since then, the coffee chain has unveiled new designs which typically feature traditional winter and Christmas holiday symbols such as snowmen, ornaments, and reindeer:


When Starbucks unveiled their 2015 holiday cup, many customers were surprised to see that it sported a solid red design that featured no symbols other than the standard green-and-white Starbucks logo. In a press release issued on 22 October 2015, Starbucks explained the reasons behind the design choice:

This year's iconic red Starbucks cup features a two-toned ombré design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below.

"We have anchored the design with the classic Starbucks holiday red that is bright and exciting," said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks vice president of Design & Content. "The ombré creates a distinctive dimension, fluidity and weightedness."

Since 1997 Starbucks has served its holiday beverages in a unique cup, starting with a jazz-themed design in jewel tones of deeper reds, greens and blues. Every year since, the cup has told a story of the holidays by featuring symbols of the season from vintage ornaments and hand-drawn reindeer to modern vector-illustrated characters.

"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs," said Fields. "This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."

"Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays," he said. "We're embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It's [a] more open way to usher in the holiday."

While Starbucks said that its 2015 holiday cup was given a plain red look in order to "usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories," others claimed that the coffee chain's plain red cup was a sign of "Christian cleansing":

What I found was deeply disappointing to 17-year-old, macchiato-chugging me. The Red Cups (do I need a trademark symbol after that?) are now an anti-Christmas symbol, with Starbucks declaring their formerly Christmassy cups to be "holiday beverages" and shedding any sign of Christmas from them.

Rumors about Starbucks' supposed "anti-Christian" attitude garnered attention when a Facebook video about them went viral:

The narrator in the above-displayed video asserts that Starbucks employees are "banned from saying Merry Christmas" and that the coffee chain removed its holiday symbols because they "hate Jesus." However, there is no evidence to support either of these claims, and the Religion News Service's Laura Turner noted that no one other than the video's narrator (and possibly not even him) seemed genuinely upset over the supposed controversy:

Joshua Feuerstein is an "American evangelist, Internet and social media personality." He used to be a pastor, but has had some success now as a maker of YouTube videos, which put his raspy voice and confrontational manner to good use.

Feuerstein went to a local Starbucks wearing his Jesus shirt and carrying a gun (because Starbucks hates the Second Amendment, he claimed). He told some unwitting barista that his name was "Merry Christmas," so that they would have to write that Christian message on his cup, and then uploaded a video to Facebook encouraging his followers to do the same: "I think in the age of political correctness we've become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head," he said.

None of the articles decrying some amorphous group of "Christians" for hating on Starbucks took into account that this whole thing was actually about one guy who makes his living creating outrageous content. But neither have the Christian responses, which have roundly condemned "these people" who want to [take the Christ out of] Starbucks, because they haven't bothered to see if they actually exist.

In fact, while Starbucks 2015 Holiday Cup doesn't bear any Christmas symbols, the chain still sells "Christmas Blend" coffee, offers gift cards with holiday symbols, and even vends Advent calendars:

starbucks collage

It should also be noted that Starbucks could not have removed any overtly Christian symbols from their cups, because they never used them to begin with. Starbucks' holiday cups typically feature general winter holiday symbols such as snowmen, carolers, and ornaments, which (although they may be associated with Christmas) are either secular in origin or not exclusively Christian:

It's true that the 2015 Starbucks Holiday Cup features a plain red design that bears no holiday-related artwork, but while some people may be disappointed that Starbucks chose not to include any symbols associated with Christmas this year, that is not evidence of that the chain is engaging in "Christian cleansing" or "hates Jesus."

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.