In late October 2015, Starbucks rolled out its annual “holiday” cup…a vibrant red cup to hold all of the short, tall, grande and venti hot beverages our hearts desire, our pockets can afford and our bellies can hold. Who would have thought a simple red cup would set off such a fire storm? But that’s exactly what happened when former television and radio evangelist, Joshua Feuerstein of Arizona, criticized Starbucks for removing “Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.” Feuerstein’s complaint is that there is no design on the cup to indicate that it is a “Christmas” cup AND that the lack of a “Christmas” design means that the Starbuck’s corporation hates Jesus. A Starbuck’s spokesperson responded to Feuerstein’s complaint, saying that Starbucks tries “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity” and that the blank red cup “is to allow and encourage customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way.”
It’s interesting that Feuerstein and those who support his cause object to a blank red cup as a sign of hatred of Jesus. But when it comes to the images Starbucks has used over the last several years on its cups during this season, not a peep was heard from Feuerstein and his supporters, alleging that those symbols were signs that Starbucks hated Jesus.
In 2014, Starbucks’ cups were all red but they used different shades of red to illustrate snowflakes and trees. In 2013, the cups were red and gold with a hint of white and included Christmas tree ornaments, snowflakes and stars. In 2012, “a winking snowman” was Starbucks’ choice for its holiday cup. In 2011, characters playing winter sports graced the cups. In 2010, the cups had characters singing carols with messages written on them, like “stories are gifts.” In 2009, the images on the cups were Christmas tree ornaments that contained messages like, “I wish every day was a holiday.” And in 2008, snowflakes and turtledoves decorated the cups.
Joshua Feuerstein and his supporters, object to a blank red cup as being “anti-Jesus” but no one said a mumbling word about snowmen, ornamented trees, caroling and snowflakes! What do snowflakes and winking snowmen have to do with Jesus?! What do any of the symbols that have come to be associated with this season have to do with Jesus?! Not a blessed thing!!
So how did these symbols become intertwined and mixed in with the birth of Jesus? Well, the story goes something like this:
*Roman pagans introduced the holiday of Saturnalia to the Christian church. Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of the Roman god Saturn, was a week long period of lawlessness and depravity celebrated from December 17th through 25th. During this time the poorest and most despised citizens were forced to give gifts to the emperor. The story goes on to say that in the 4th century, leaders in the church succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of these Roman pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate Saturnalia as Christians. There was nothing about Saturnalia that was even remotely related to Christianity before the church designated the end of the festival, December 25th, as the birth of Jesus. The “pagan” Christians were allowed to continue their pagan practices and partying and giving gifts to one another was incorporated into the celebration of Jesus’s birth.
The Christmas tree became a part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth when the church was trying to recruit and convert pagans from the Asheira cult. The Ahseira cult worshiped trees in the forest and also brought them into their homes for worship. In order to persuade the Asheira cult to become part of the church, they were allowed to continue worshiping trees.*
Christians are supposed to be celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world. But instead, too many of us have forgotten about Jesus and instead, we have chosen to focus on a season of symbols… ornamented trees, decorated snowmen, colorful, flashing lights and gifts to everyone except the “birthday boy” – Jesus. None of these symbols has any connection to Jesus or his birth.
Do we need to get rid of these symbols? I think the answer is a personal one. Like many people, I love the colors of red, green, and gold during this season. I think it’s pretty! I enjoy the “old school” music of the season, like the Temptations’ “Give Love On Christmas Day”, The Jackson Five’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and Karen Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas Darling”. Putting up a tree and decorations have not been a priority for me in recent years but that has more to do with the task of taking them down and putting them away. The “little ones” in my family have grown up and we are waiting for the next generation of children. So exchanging gifts is not a big priority for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do it.
Like most people and most Christians, I do a lot of symbolic things during this season out of habit. But now that I know the origins of many of these symbols, I am not sure that I can or want to continue to use them. As much as I enjoy receiving and giving gifts, I have to remind myself that this is the time of year that the Christian church has adopted to recognize the birth of the Savior. I have to remind myself that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Could it be that Starbucks is pointing us, (Christians, that is,) in the right direction, by getting rid of the symbols of this season with a simple red cup? Could it be that removing the symbols from the cup serves as a reminder to Christians to get personally and intimately involved in the “holiness” of this day that we are supposed to be celebrating? What would our celebration look like if we didn’t have the symbols of this season to distract us from the Savior of the Season?
The symbols of this season – snowmen, decorations, lights and jingle bells — make us smile for a moment. But after the season is over and the symbols have been put in the attic, many people are drained — mind, body, soul and pocketbook. Thirty-something years after his birth, Jesus reminded his disciples and through the biblical text he reminds us today, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, New International Version).
Do we want empty pockets or a full life? Do we want social gatherings or meaningful relationships? One last question, for Feuerstein and all of us– Do we want symbols or do we want a Savior?
*Multiple internet sources were used for information on the origins of Christmas symbols.
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Copyright © 2015 by Kanisha L. Adkins.
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