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Seeing Red: Starbucks Cups, Service Members, and the True Spirit of Christmas | U.S. PATRIOT NEWS & REVIEWS

Seeing Red: Starbucks Cups, Service Members, and the True Spirit of Christmas

The outrage was palpable despite its being filtered through social media. Americans all across the country were offended, hurt and upset by what many rather dramatically phrased as a “sign of the end times” or “the devil at work.” No, this wasn’t – isn’t – outrage directed at rampant terrorism, it’s all thanks to a cup. A red cup, specifically; a cup made by none other than coffee giant Starbucks.

“It’s totally inconsistent with the kind of behavior we would have expected from our people, so it has been very upsetting to learn of this.” (Starbucks President Orin Smith regarding a NYC Starbucks charging rescue workers for water on 9/11)

‘Tis the season – although the drama began unfolding prior to Thanksgiving – for Christmas, Christmas everyone. Christmas as far as the eye can see. Christmas decorations. Christmas candy. Christmas gift box sets. Christmas wreaths. Christmas trees (yes, really). And, of course, it’s time for Starbucks to bring back their seasonally-served red cups. In years past, those cups have been decorated with seasonally appropriate designs ranging from ornaments to carolers to reindeer. Then there was the year they did the “12 Days of Christmas Gifts” and the year prior to that when cups featured phrases such as “stories are gifts” and “when I’m with you every day is a snow day”. It’s important to remember something these years of cups have had in common: secular images.

“…today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas—even in states where “open carry” is permitted—unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.” (Open letter by Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, 2013)

Starbucks has certainly had bad press over the years, and some of it has been deserved. For example, it’s unlikely anyone has forgotten the Starbucks in New York that forced rescue workers to hand over $130 for the honor of using their water for 9/11 rescue efforts. While it is true the ambulance company – Midwood Ambulance Service – was eventually reimbursed and the company’s president received an apology via phone from Orin Smith, the president of Starbucks, it was still more than a slight problem. The company has also become somewhat notorious for its anti-gun stance, one that resulted in an open letter to gun-toting customers a couple years ago. Don’t forget the Philadelphia LEO who was denied use of the bathroom by a barista who loudly berated him in front of customers for not being a paying customer (Haven’t heard about that one? It happened just this past September. Look here.) Then there’s the recent debacle concerning the company’s attitude about gay marriage. In a moment that was widely misquoted and/or misstated, Starbucks made it quite clear they did not care for the money or business of those who do not go along with their pro-gay marriage stance. And while it was, indeed, misquoted, the gist remained the same: if you support traditional marriage, Starbucks doesn’t want your money. Now it’s Christmas time and there’s even more bad press for the coffee king, and it’s all thanks to the appearance of their annual red cup.

“…[supporting gay marriage] was not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds. [Then, to a shareholder who asked a question:] If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country.  You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” (Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz regarding Starbucks’ support of gay marriage)

StarbucksThis year’s now-infamous red Starbucks cups are, well – red. Actually they’re more a sunset theme with the familiar deep red base and an orangey upper half bringing to mind the sort of dramatic close to a day expected from a movie. And drama is precisely what Starbucks has gotten with what could easily be called The Red Cup Stunt of 2015. The cups made their annual appearance on November 3, 2015, and caffeine junkies everywhere looking for their Christmas-inspired fix took to social media almost immediately to express their outrage. Because, you see, Starbucks had removed any and all evidence of Christmas from their red cups, and as this article’s opening line mentioned, the outrage was palpable.

Perhaps the most offended group is the uber-conservative Christians who seem to feel the production of all-red cups – well, red and sunset-orange – is a personal swipe at Christianity and the religious roots of Christmas itself. Headlines too on variations of the same theme with Breitbart proclaiming it a “War on Christmas” and Donald Trump suggesting patrons simply boycott the company in retaliation for this travesty. Social media posts and tweets urged those who are upset to “trick” Starbucks employees into giving the cups a forced holiday spirit by answering with “Merry Christmas” when asked for a name. Apparently the idea of “forcing” a college-age barista to write “Merry Christmas” in black Sharpie on your disposable coffee cup instead of your name is a hash mark in the win column for Christians everywhere.

The red-cup theme for Starbucks cups started back in 1997 when the Fortune 500 company decided they needed a better holiday marketing ploy as they branched out into other countries. At the time they had just 1,400 stores in the United States and Canada and were looking to expand into other countries, so giving the cups a holiday twist seemed like a great idea. Enter 1997’s “Give in to the Rhythm” red cups splashed with modern-day Santas. As usual, the plan worked and today Starbucks boasts more than 21,000 stores in 66 countries. They’ve come a long way since 1997 and, although their success can be partially attributed to their brews, it’s undeniably also thanks to marketing.

There’s just one problem. Well, there’s more than one problem, but there’s one in particular. Since the first red cup hit the market nearly two decades ago, the holiday themes have been strictly secular, highlighting what many religious folks consider the pagan aspects of the season rather than the religious. Cups have never been decorated with manger scenes or Bible verses, but apparently the snowmen, carolers, and reindeer are “close enough” for many while plain red is just wrong.

In some ways, the uproar has made me wonder who among those complaining actually knows their Scripture. Not only Christians but historians alike admit Jesus’ birthdate was not only not on December 25th, it was nowhere near that date. Although opinions differ regarding whether he was actually born in the summer or early fall, the fact that December isn’t right is readily agreed upon. Some believe the Catholic Church chose December 25th because it coincided with both the winter solstice and Saturnalia, which is a celebration of the Roman deity Saturn. The thinking is that the Catholic Church realized timing Christmas this way would be a pre-emptive strike against those specific pagan celebrations, thereby moving Christmas to the forefront and other winter festivals to the background. Regardless of its roots, the fact remains that Christmas as we here in the United States celebrate does not take place on or near Jesus’ actual birthdate despite that event being its inspiration.  In addition, regardless of how upset some people are about Starbucks’ plain red cup, the fact remains that their cups have never depicted religious scenes.

There have been some fights for Christmas I could get behind. For example, the removal of “Merry Christmas” from the dialogue of department stores, shop windows, and decorations in general – that one burns my grits good. Christmas trees being denied existence in various government-owned buildings and schools? Grits boiling with righteous anger. USPS putting out supposedly holiday-themed stamps featuring symbols fashioned to resemble a Christmas tree – symbols actually marking the celebration of an Islamic celebration? Grits blackened with fury. Yes, some fights are worth lacing up your gloves for, but others? Others don’t quite make the cut. Raised blood pressure over a red cup falls on my “you’ve got to be kidding me” list.

“He puzzled and puzzled until his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” (Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” quote from the narrator)

Jeremy Litka
Jeremy Litka

It was friend and firearms aficionado Jeremy Litka of Nevada who came up with a solution to the red cup frenzy that quickly went viral on Facebook. On the morning in question, a friend treated Jeremy to a plain-red-oh-my-God cup of coffee. Jeremy chose a caramel macchiato – yes, these are details I felt the need to extract – and when he had the object of so many Americans’ offense in his hands, he was struck by an idea. He noted the deep red of his cup, thinking about the tsunami-like surge of social media posts featuring red cups with various Christmas-inspired things written and drawn on them. “Why not,” Jeremy would later tell me, “write on it like everyone else, but have a simple message to show my patriotism.” (Why not, indeed?) “We’re complaining about the color of the cup while soldiers that are deployed would just like to have a cup of coffee,” he continued. Yes, he admitted, there was definitely some appeal to mocking Starbucks’ view on “some things” – little things like being anti-gun and rejecting the money of traditional-marriage supporting shareholders, for a start. But his inspiration was rooted in his patriotism, patriotism that runs bone-deep. To Jeremy, patriotism is not just for the Fourth of July, just like the spirit of Christmas should not be just for December. And so he took pen to cup, and emblazoned it with “Remember. Everyone. Deployed.” R.E.D. Red cup. Because remembering our service members is more important than a disposable coffee cup.

It’s a bit difficult to trace the origin of R.E.D. Fridays, but the spirit stays true regardless of its start. Some groups believe the soldier-supporting movement got its start from a chain email back in 2005, but those more deeply immersed in the military know it started well before then. In fact, red shirts began making an appearance on military bases years before 2005, with many marking their start as coinciding with 9/11. What began as a way for service members and their families to show support to those deployed soon spread nationally, and today supporters across America don red on Fridays – and on other days – to Remember Everyone Deployed.

Jeremy Litka started something that day. Before long, his R.E.D. red cup image was spreading through social media, easily recognizable not only because his hand was holding it but because, in his haste, he spelled out “Remeber” rather than “Remember”. It was an oversight not of poor English skills but one borne of excitement, and I can’t say I blame him considering when I spotted his R.E.D. post I immediately wished I’d thought of it myself. Hat tip to Jeremy Litka for thinking not of a petty argument over whether or not there are winking snowmen on his coffee cup but of our service men and women this holiday season.

This is the meaning of Christmas: Christmas is not presents, cookies, or trees. Christmas is not even carols, no matter how traditional, or Christmas Eve service or Mass, no matter how spiritual. All those things are well and good, and give us ways to celebrate, showing we care for loved ones. Even so, they are not what Christmas is about. Christmas isn’t material, it’s emotional and, yes, spiritual. It’s a feeling, a belief, a rush of love better than any manufactured high; it’s an expression of not only God’s love but of love, period. It’s a warm, golden glow you can almost wrap around yourself, which is better than any paper-wrapped present out there, in my book.

LitkaREDcupR.E.D. Fridays are an expression of love as well. We are thinking of, praying for, and supporting our troops, both stateside and deployed. We remember those who are deployed, especially this holiday season, and we do not only give them a passing thought, we work to help. Some mail Christmas cards, some send packages, and others are granted the gift of precious minutes of phone or Skype time. As Jeremy said, our deployed soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen would love the luxury of a hot cup of coffee, let alone one fresh from the counter of the biggest coffee company in the country. Arguing and crying over the lack of Christmas decorations on the red Starbucks cup is the epitome of what is wrong with this country: far too many Americans are offended as easily as they breathe, and in their offense and self-righteousness they forget what really matters.

Starbucks should make a R.E.D. Friday cup – and they should donate to the military (one rumor not addressed above was one claiming the company refused coffee to the military because they don’t agree with the war, but that one is just that: a rumor). It is accurate that Starbucks does not directly donate to our nation’s military – something I feel should be immediately remedied – but they do provide coffee for care packages through the USO, among others. It’s time Starbucks stepped up their game. If they are as patriotic as they have claimed to be on numerous occasions, prove it. Put their coffee where their mouth is, as it were, and actively, openly support our military. R.E.D. Friday cups would be marketing genius as well, because they would draw in many patrons who would otherwise refuse to buy Starbucks coffee due to the company’s anti-gun stance, among others.

How about it, Starbucks, you with us?

To Jeremy Litka: an outstanding job well done!

To the hordes who have whipped themselves into a frenzy about a plain red coffee cup: shame on you. You have clearly forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, and in doing so have become the biggest Grinches of all.

Merry Christmas, and Remember Everyone Deployed not only this holiday season but throughout the year as well.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth
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1 thought on “Seeing Red: Starbucks Cups, Service Members, and the True Spirit of Christmas

  1. Very thoughtful piece Katherine, and very interesting in its crafting. You took me along emotionally, sometimes in agreement and sometimes in disagreement. But you captured and held my interest. And most importantly, you made me think. Kudos. Thank you for not only providing the highlight of my day, but giving me cause to reflect on the reasons I served. A very merry and peaceful Christmas to you.

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