All the Controversies Behind Starbucks’ Holiday Cups

Starbucks unveiled their 2018 holiday cups on November 2. Every year, the company designs a holiday cup to celebrate the season and introduce their newest seasonal holiday drinks. But over the past few years, not all customers have been happy with Starbucks’ cup designs. It seems each year, controversy follows the coffee giant in its holiday design choice. Here are some of the holiday cup controversies from past years.

starbucks coffee cup

Starbucks’ holiday cups have struck a nerve with some customers in recent years. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The company’s plain red cup was denounced by certain religions

Starbucks was always known for the festive, Christmas-inspired cups it would introduce during the holiday season. However, in 2015, the company went a different route. They released plain red cups — no design, no frills. Red still symbolized the holiday season, but the company said the plain red cups were meant to tell the stories of all of their customers. There are plenty of Starbucks customers who practice other religions, and Starbucks wanted to be respectful and inclusive. However, the red cups backfired. People disliked that Starbucks was leaving its traditional Christmas style, and many were up in arms over the decision, saying it was a dig at Christianity.

Donald Trump, who was running for president at the time, even chimed in on the issue. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ at Starbucks. No more,” Trump said at a campaign rally. He also suggested people boycott the coffee chain.

Their green cups with a 100-person mosaic supposedly pushed a political agenda

In 2016, Starbucks tried something different. They strayed from the red cup and instead released a green one, complete with a mosaic of 100 people who were all interconnected on the cup. Starbucks was trying to be inclusive, but once again came under fire. People thought the company was pushing a political agenda with their cups, since Starbucks said they were trying to promote unity (the world was very politically divided at the time — and still is). Chaos ensued over the new design in the same way it had in 2015.

Their ‘doodle’ holiday cup showed two held hands — which some believed symbolized gay marriage

In 2017, the company once again tried to please everyone. That year, a “doodle” cup was created, which came in a simple white color and was meant to inspire people to color the doodles in their own way. But one of the drawings on the cup showed two people holding hands, and many thought it symbolized a same-sex couple. Once again, Starbucks came under fire for supposedly pushing the agenda of gay rights. The hands appeared to be gender-neutral, so more chaos and controversy came about. The company said they intentionally designed the cup in a way that would let people celebrate the holidays however and with whomever they pleased. But it wasn’t enough to avoid backlash.

This year, Starbucks says they’re returning to the Christmas cups

It’s now 2018, which means Starbucks gets yet another chance to try and appeal to the entire country. They polled people via CNN and asked for feedback in person to figure out exactly what customers wanted to see this year. “They said they ‘loved the tradition of Christmas,’” Roz Brewer, Starbucks’ chief operating officer, told CNN. The company released four different cups this year and said each of them reflects not only the holiday season but also Starbucks as a company. They’re hoping the fourth time is a charm and that these different cups will be something for everyone to enjoy.

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