Red Christmas Cups

Starbucks Red CupsI’ve hesitated writing this for the last few days.  When such strong opinions start to surge through social media, pointing out the absurdity in them can often come across just as belligerent and uneducated as the original argument.  But I feel strongly with this one.  I feel we’re missing the entire point.  Instead of accidently offending everyone of one believe we’re missing that this entire debacle speaks directly to how far we still have to go to accept all the people of this world.  This is my opinion, and if I offend you, I am profoundly sorry.

From what I understand, Starbucks is under fire for being ‘anti-Jesus’ by refusing to celebrate Christmas with simple red cups.  Because they haven’t written ‘Merry Christmas’ on them (which they haven’t done in years), they’ve inadvertently sent a message to all who celebrate Christmas that they no longer support the Holiday.

I’m going to skip this overreaction and go directly to the simple fact that ‘not everyone celebrates Christmas.’

My best friend is someone I love with my whole heart.  She’s loving, caring and above all else, compassionate.  I honestly can’t say two words together negative about her.  If I were going to give a list of the attributes that make a wonderful, beautiful person, I would be listing her virtues.  We’ve been friends for ten years and the memories we’ve created together are magical.  Why do I bring her up?  She doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Her family is Vietnamese and they celebrate Chinese New Year the way we celebrate our Christmas.  I don’t know enough about Vietnamese culture to know if this is true generally, but it is true of her family.  When she and I first met working at a movie theater as teens, she quickly agreed to work Christmas Day if I would work Chinese New Year.  I immediately agreed because Christmas was such an important thing for my family.  I  never once thought anything of it.  She used to tell me about her families celebrations and once I even got to participate with her family.  It was so much fun!  I was absolutely thrilled to take part in something that means so much to her.  Every year I get her something for Chinese New Year, and every year she and I go do something Christmasy together, like see the lights at Van Dusen Gardens or see VSO choir singing Christmas Carols at Saint Andrew’s-Wesley church.  She loves the lights and festivities, and she loves the beauty of the songs and laughter.

My friend is not a judgemental person.  She’s never once walked through the thousands of stores that pour Christmas out in waves and complained that they were offending her religious beliefs.  She’s never said that she felt excluded.  She doesn’t care.  She sees our culture of Christmas and sometimes participates, but it’s never been part of her life.  When she walks into Starbucks right now and is handed a red cup, she knows it’s because of Christmas.  No one is hiding it.  It doesn’t matter to her.  Maybe it should.  Maybe she should get angry that they don’t incorporate any of her beliefs.  But instead she drinks her coffee and does the most important thing; she thanks the barista!

When I heard that this argument was taking place I was stunned.  I love Christmas!  I was raised Christian and I understand what Christmas is supposed to be about.  I’m not a practicing Christian anymore, but I grew up with nativity scenes and stories from the Bible.  I also love Starbucks.  They have gotten me through many a long day and I like their coffee.  I know there are people who prefer other companies, but that’s not the point of this.  I personally like Starbucks.  And as a raised Christian, I don’t feel offended in the slightest at their red cups.

I think what they’ve done, whether they meant to or not, is not exclude a religion but instead include a wider variety of cultures.  You can walk into Starbucks and know the red cup means Christmas, or that the ‘Christmas Blend’ is already singing the holidays.  But if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the red cup just signifies a cup of coffee.  When did Christmas have to be forced itself at us in order to be Christmas?  My very favorite Christmas decoration at home is a little girl playing the tambourine.  now that I think about it, what makes it Christmas-y?  Nothing.  I could set that decoration out during the summer and people would think it was super cute figurine.  What makes it feel like Christmas is the memories it holds and what I feel about it.  My mom gave it to me at Christmas so I associate it with Christmas.  It used to be on her Christmas tree as a girl.  Starbucks, your red cups feel like Christmas to me.

Christianity is a massive cultural staple for a huge portion of the world.  It goes back so far we would need a history professor to really explain it.  I am not a history professor.  What I am is a person who loves everyone for who they are, no matter what they celebrate, who they pray to or what color they are.  I was raised Christian.  I choose to remain a Christian because I feel it has taught me to be a better person.  It taught me to love and accept, and to believe in myself and others.  It taught me to have hope and dreams and search for a greater meaning.  It taught me that there are other equally massive parts of the world that don’t understand Christianity at all!

My mother is a school teacher.  She is a lovely caucasian Christian lady who teaches in an elementary school in a very heavily Sikh populated neighborhood.  Out of 30 students she’ll have 25 Sikh, one Hindu, one Muslim, one Chinese and maybe one caucasian.   Every year she puts a calendar on the wall and all the students write down their holidays.  When Chinese new year comes around, they all celebrate and that student gets to talk about their family traditions.  At Christmas the Christian child will talk about their traditions and memories.  My mother takes part in Vaisakhi with all her students.  She was even gifted a colorful sari from another teacher, and she wears it when appropriate.  She also has to explain why Christmas and Good Friday or Holidays, but why even their most important religious holidays are not.

When my mother comes home from work to her family, she celebrates Christian holidays, but she recognizes and respects the traditions and beliefs of everyone around her.  Why?  Because she believes god is accepting, and he loves unconditionally, and all people in this world are beautiful and worthy of our respect.  And if you don’t believe in god that’s okay too.

So instead of arguing against the ‘anti-Jesus’ campaign, or taking a stand for Starbucks for acknowledging Christmas, I’m going to take a third stance and say that we should all be accepting without prejudice.  If a red cup is anti-Jesus and offends all Christians, then maybe the Christmas cups every year have been offending every single other religion in the world.  Why have they never attacked Starbucks for not including them?  Why has Starbucks never been persecuted for not acknowledging the religions of every single one of their customers?

I don’t want to speak out against any religion, but I believe that no matter what you believe, all people in this world are created equal.  If I believe that, I have to believe that other religions are equal with mine.  I have to believe that we’re all correct in our beliefs, and even if I don’t understand you, I haven’t been given the power to tell you you’re wrong.   But arguing which religion is ‘right’ is still not the right battle!  Starbucks in my eyes has been predominantly a Christmas loving company.  I personally want to see them incorporate more holidays, more beliefs and more religious events.   Starbucks is now in 65 countries.  I want to know if they fill their stores with Christmas decorations in Egypt or Indian.   What about in Peru or Sri Lanka?  Do Christians really want Starbucks to act as advocates for their religion?  Should they force Christmas on massive parts of the world that have their own beliefs?  I certainly hope they never will.  I’ve never visited a Starbucks in any country that wasn’t Christian, so I have no idea what it looks like this time of year.  I’d love to see pictures of how Starbucks incorporates the cultures of the cities they’re in.

Let’s re-visit the red cups now.  I feel that the red cups signify Christmas.  When I first walked into Starbucks the day after Halloween and was handed a red cup, my first thought was ‘I guess Christmas is here’.  Christmas is supposed to be what you make of it.  I see red and green and I see Christmas.  I see snow and I see Christmas.  No one has to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me for me to feel Christmas.  My family hasn’t exchanged gifts in years and I feel a great swell of Christmas every year when we go skiing together.  I feel Christmas in the lights around me, the joy in the air, the coldness of the world and the mittens that I wear.

So I’m going to take a stand.  This is my statement, and I say it directly to Starbucks…

Thank you, for always accepting me into your family and helping me through the day.  Thank you for being accepting of my friends, who are of all difference backgrounds and religions.  Thank you for never judging me no matter how I look, what I wear or what I choose to say.  And thank you for never closing your doors to the people I love.  I’ve taken you for granted all these years because in my life you provided a function.  But now that my eyes are open I want to make sure you know I appreciate you.

And to the Baristas at the Starbucks I go to daily, that smile at me with recognition when I’m still four people down in line, and start making my coffee before I get there.  The lovely blonde I’m horrified to realize I don’t know her name who wishes me a great day every time.  The guy who is a little shy and still new, who has perfected my coffee over the last few weeks.  I look forward to going there and sitting down to take a sip or setting up my computer and catching up on news.  I’ve taken every friend or family member who visits there because I trust you with the people I love.  Even if you didn’t celebrate my religious holiday, I would still walk into your store and enjoy the atmosphere you create.

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas, Happily Holidays, Happy New Years, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa.  Have a wonderful Las Posadas or Eid-al-adha.  Have a colorful Diwali.  For any other winter holidays or if you don’t celebrate anything this time of year, just have wonderfully happy days as often as you can.





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