Starbucks’ annual holiday cups ― once a simple, cheerful tradition that has spun into a politically fraught controversy ― are back again, this time wishing customers a “merry coffee.”
The joe joint unveiled the cups this week, which are decorated in a series of red, green and white patterns. One pops with polka dots, another is wrapped in bold candy cane stripes and two others bear the simplistic greeting.
In a press release Wednesday, Starbucks said its designers drew inspiration from classic Christmas movies, music and more than 20 years of the coffee chain’s iconic cups. After coming up with 50-plus designs, they landed on these four.
For the past few years, the seasonal reveal has prompted a mix of reactions, starting in 2015 when the coffee chain stripped its cups of their usual holiday motifs and opted for solid red. The change prompted Joshua Feuerstein, an internet evangelist, to record a video in which he declared that Starbucks had launched an effort to “take Christ and Christmas off their brand new cups.”
Outraged conservatives soon hopped on board, motivating then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to warn supporters at a rally that there was a “war on Christmas.”
The following year, Starbucks ditched the red theme for green cups featuring what founder Howard Schultz described as “a mosaic of more than a hundred people, drawn in one continuous stroke” meant to symbolize unity.
In 2017, cups were reinvented with a more conventional holiday doodle that included a tree, gifts, snowflakes and two mitten-covered hands clasped together. However, only the arms of each of the figures were shown, sparking speculation over whether they were meant to represent a same-sex couple.
Each time, the cups have triggered at least some reaction from the right, which has claimed that the corporation is attempting to remove Christianity from the holiday season. Meanwhile, Starbucks has appeared to promote a somewhat inclusive message that could appeal to a broad spectrum of coffee drinkers.
For the second holiday season in a row, Starbucks is also offering reusable red cups that recall the earlier, no-frills look and, earlier this week, was giving them out for free to customers who ordered a holiday beverage.