How can we have a ‘War on Christmas’ when it’s not even Advent for three more weeks?

Central Park detail

Detail from a family picture taken on Black Friday 2007 in a frigid Central Park.

When I met Howard Duvall at Starbucks the other day, I was delighted to see that they’d started using the red holiday cups. I have a lot of pleasant associations with that annual sign of the season, such as the time three of my kids and I stayed warm with such cups on a Black Friday visit to a bitterly cold New York (see above).

Some people, however, see the cups’ arrival as an opportunity to increase the amount of division in the world:

Starbucks has come under fire from some Christians who say the company isn’t repping hard enough for Jesus on its recent understated holiday cups. The problem? Political correctness, according to one evangelical.

“I think in the age of political correctness we become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” Joshua Feuerstein said in a widely viewed anti-Starbucks rant on Facebook titled “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” “Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red.”…

Everyone has his or her peeves. Here’s one of mine…

Why on Earth would I expect to see “Christmas” on a coffee cup on Guy Fawkes Day? That’s more than three weeks before Advent even starts, much less Christmas. You want to complain about Christmas being underplayed, get back to me sometime between Dec. 25 and the Feast of the Epiphany.ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

When I get a red cup on Nov. 5, it really is a holiday cup, since it will span the period that includes our first experiences of cold weather, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. It’s about celebrating a season — you know, the holiday season, and yeah, that includes Hanukkah. Maybe New Year’s, too (I’m not clear on when they stop using the cups).

If your excuse for protesting is that you are a Christian, how about checking out a liturgical calendar sometime? Yeah, I know, not every Christian is in a liturgical church, but come on — just how early do you want the Merry Christmases to start?

57 thoughts on “How can we have a ‘War on Christmas’ when it’s not even Advent for three more weeks?

  1. Karen Pearson

    So it’s ok to use Jesus’ name to promote whatever you’re trying to sell, as long as the words “Jesus” or “Christ” are prominent? Somehow, this idea doesn’t square with my understanding of being a follower of his. I can see it now: Two stores who sell the same or similar items start ad campaigns for Christmas–something like ‘It’s CHRISTmas. We believe in JESUS. So JESUS loves us more than our competitor. Come to our store, where JESUS is found. We put the CHRIST in CHRISTmas where He belongs!

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I think a lot of Lutherans think Marty should not have cut back the sacraments to just two. The Sacrament of the Coffee Hour, with Bach’s Coffee Cantata as it’s musical inspiration…..

  2. David Carlton

    Hear, Hear!! As a one-time Presbyterian Worship Committee Chair, I’ve long thought that the real “war” was on Advent–a season that, if you pay any attention to such things, is very, VERY different from Christmas. It’s not about the warm and cuddlies, the baby and the cute animals. It’s about darkness and the coming light, it’s about the fulfilment of prophecy (which may bring joy or dread or both at once). It’s about a teenage girl being visited by a strange guy and being told something that shocks her out of her mind (See Rossetti’s version of the Annunciation; some years ago I turned a corner at the Tate and was knocked on my heels). It’s the vision of Mary in the Magnificat that the world will be turned upside down, and in a way likely not to us privileged Presbies’ liking. It’s stronge, it’s unsettling, and knocks our comfortable assumptions about our faith into a cocked hat. Which, I think is why it’s been banished to the mall stockrooms.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That painting’s a bit of a mind-blower. I’m impressed, but I’m not sure I like it, and often I do like the pre-Raphaelites. I think maybe I like that style better when applied to Arthurian legend than to religious themes. It’s so trippy, melodramatic and overstated…

      Have you ever studied the Henry Tanner version of the Annunciation below? I was introduced to it at a leadership retreat last year conducted by the Sisters of Charity. Our moderator showed it to us (or maybe showed us a portion of it, without the heavenly light at the left) and asked us to talk about what we thought was going on in the picture. It was interesting.

      I think maybe I like the Tanner better than the Rossetti….


        1. Kathryn Fenner

          I think the Pre-Raphaelites were riffing on Titian and the other Italains who celebrated red hair, plus red hair is associated with Celts and mysticism.

          1. Chris McCormick

            I don’t think the answer is that the PreRaphaelites were “riffing” on Titian, a literal post-Raphaelite. You won’t find a lot of commonality between the sumptuous theatricality of Titian and the truth to nature of the PreRaphs. The model for Rossetti’s _Annunciation_ is Elizabeth Siddal, his wife. She happened to have red hair, which per their credo he would paint as he saw it. Same model in Millais’s famous _Ophelia_ in the river.

            Rossetti did have another model (Alexa Wilding) who had flaming red hair, but probably his most well-known model was a brunette (Jane Burden Morris), and his other prominent model was a blonde.

            I think the reason we see “so many redheads” in PreRaphaelite art is that _we_ modern viewers like those, so they are the ones we see all the time on book covers and in calendars, etc.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Hey, Chris, didn’t you attend that big pre-Raphaelite show they had at the Ashmolean in 2010? How was it?

              It was just before we visited Oxford, but they had some examples of the genre in their permanent collection, so at least we got to see those…

              1. Chris McCormick

                It was pretty good! It had a lot of landscapes and some watercolors and drawings by Ruskin, of whom I’m a big fan. No “major” works, though. The show was called “PreRpahealites and Italy,” when none of them ever went to Italy so far as I know!

                By the way, Jen corrected me on the model for _The Annunciation_. It’s Gabriel’s sister Christina (the poet who wrote Goblin Market), and she **didn’t** have red hair. I know that traditionally redheads were viewed with mistrust, as if the devil had something to do with them. Mary Magdalen was commonly depicted as a redhead. So when Gabriel paints a redheaded Mary, and Millais around the same time paints a redheaded Christ (, they’re young Turks being provocative. A lot of people were incensed by the fact that Millais clearly modeled Joseph after a real life workman, farmer’s tan and all. I guess it worked if they still get a rise out of us today.

              1. Chris McCormick

                Sorry about that; my wife is literally a world-class scholar on these folks, and I can’t resist the chance to talk about them.

                Please feel free to drop some knowledge should I ever opine on law or sprinkle my writing with occasional Latin phrases. 😉

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      The category of “Christians” who believe there is a War on Christmas are not generally in the group that observes Advent. They do the Hanging of the Greens and other recent “traditions” (Drive-thru nativity scene?)…. Those who do not have traditions will be forced to invent them.

    1. Norm Ivey

      If it weren’t for the rain, I would have been hanging lights this past weekend. As it stands, I’ll be busy every weekend from now til Thanksgiving.

      Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Good for you, Norm, although I am of the put-up-the-tree-at-the-last-minute camp. And I’m not really one for outdoor displays.

      My Dad says that when he was a kid, there was no tree when he and his brother and sisters went to bed on Christmas Eve, and they woke up to a fully decorated tree in the morning.

      I kind of like that idea, although we’ve never gone quite that far at our house…

      1. Norm Ivey

        Started hanging a few strands yesterday and found myself swatting mosquitoes. I didn’t feel very festive.

      2. Kathryn Fenner

        That was the German tradition. I was told when possible, the parents would close off a room during Advent and not heat it, fill it with all those German cookies that need time to age to be edible like Spingerle, and put the tree and presents in there. Then either after Midnight Mass or first thing waking up Christmas morning, the room would be opened. I imagine that made quite an impression on kids, and kept Advent real.
        Nowadays, Christmas is pretty much over before it technically starts.

      3. Norm Ivey

        In my childhood home, the tree went up the weekend before Christmas Day. Everybody in the family helped decorate the tree and whatever other decorations we might have or make. My folks always said they couldn’t put it up earlier because we’d make them crazy beforehand.

        In my children’s childhood home, the tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving, even now that they have moved out. I festoon the outside with animated lights, and the inside looks a bit like a department store with a Dept. 56 village, vintage Santas, an entire shelf of Nativities, a 12-foot tree and a mantle with about 60 of those old ceramic choir boys and girls. We rearrange the living room furniture and move several things into the garage to make room for it all. We embrace the season in all of its tacky wonderfulness.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Whatever works.
          We may put up a tree this year, after not doing so for at least the past ten. Don’t know why.

  3. Karen Pearson

    I’ll celebrate Christmas during Christmas. Right now I’m looking forward to Advent with its preparation and quiet waiting.

  4. Barry

    No serious Christian cares what Starbucks has done with their cups.

    As one of my church friends wrote yesterday on his facebook page- this is a media creation to generate clicks on stories – and he’s correct.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      There’s no evidence that it is a media creation as anyone would reasonably consider it to mean –it started with a blogger. It went viral, then a backlash. Now Donald Trump has jumped in.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    What really floors me is that these people are objecting to the lack of images of evergreens or snowflakes — things that have nothing to do with Jesus. Such symbols are equally or more fitting when celebrating the Winter solstice…

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    It gets weirder. I just got this email release:

    Phone: (919) 645-0771

    Starbucks: Faith Driven Consumer Calls for #ChristmasBUYcott

    For consumers unhappy with Starbucks’ removal of Christmas from its cups, actively doing business with more faith-compatible brands is the answer; Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme score higher than Starbucks on 2016 Faith Equality Index

    (Raleigh, NC, November 10, 2015)—Faith Driven Consumer™ (FDC)—representing 41 million consumers who spend $2 trillion annually, has recently earned wide recognition for the launch of its groundbreaking Faith Equality Index (FEI), which rates more than 330 major brands for compatibility with Faith Driven Consumers. Armed with an easy tool for choosing where to shop, the group is now focusing its efforts on mobilizing the FDC community—-a market segment that has $30 billion to spend this Christmas season—in a massive #ChristmasBUYcott.

    As the controversy over Starbucks continues to make headlines, Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone is forwarding a viable solution:

    “Starbucks is free to design cups and other materials as they see fit, and each consumer—driven by their values and ideals—will respond based on the relative appeal of these products. For those Faith Driven Consumers and others dissatisfied with Starbucks’ new presentation of Christmas as ‘a blank canvas,’ the #ChristmasBUYcott offers a positive and viable path forward. To date, we have scored Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme on the Faith Equality Index. The latter two, while not perfect, offer more faith-compatible alternatives. Rather than being frustrated with a company that fails to acknowledge your values, simply choose a brand that better welcomes you as a Faith Driven Consumer.”

    #ChristmasBUYcott builds on last week’s launch of the 2016 Faith Equality Index. The Faith Equality Index annually rates, on a 100-point scale, how well brands acknowledge Faith Driven Consumers (FDCs) by welcoming, embracing, and celebrating them. This index is the benchmark tool FDCs use to make consumer choices—through the lens of their biblical worldview.

    According to American Insights:

    93% of Faith Driven Consumers see value in a resource that allows them to easily identify the faith compatibility of brands

    86% are more likely to do business with a brand that welcomes them and acknowledges their values
    77% would switch to a more compatible brand
    70% are actively seeking new brands
    The $30 billion Christmas spending estimate for Faith Driven Consumers is based on a CNBC report on Christmas spending, which estimates $765 per person to be spent.

    To see the campaign website, go to


    I wonder — how would rate on the Index?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            How about “30”? As in, the traditional ending of news stories. As in, the median age of people who spend a lot of time in coffee shops…

            Back when I was in my late 20s, and thinking about getting out of the newspaper game, I had in my head a VERY rough idea for a play about a newspaperman who was about to turn 30 and thinking about quitting the business. OK, maybe it doesn’t even qualify as a rough idea — all I really had was the title: “30.” Double entendre, you see.

            Speaking of which, how about that REALLY awkward moment when Bush started to explain a play on words he had made? I forget what it was; I just remember him starting to explain it and then stopping himself…

    1. bud

      The problem with the FDC approach is that a low scoring brand might actually have a better product. What if Starbucks coffee is significantly better than Duncan Donuts? What if it is more convenient or less expensive? What if all your friends want to go to Starbucks instead of DD? Do you just skip coffee? Do you get new friends? I have a number of places that I don’t patronize partly because of politics. But honestly those places aren’t particularly good to start with. I also eat at certain restaurants that are politically marginal but otherwise have pretty good food and service. It’s not so easy to live your life based on political considerations.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I cannot imagine how crushingly joyless it must be to live a life where every choice is a political statement.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              When you spend money in one way instead of another, it ultimately has political repercussions. When you have children or not, when one spouse stays at home of cuts back on work hours, etc….

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I am deeply and profoundly ideologically opposed to restaurants with bad food and service, and I refuse to give them my business.

        Don’t try to talk me out of it; I’m immovable.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        You can also get knit/crocheted ones with a fish “embroidered” on with a loose running stitch.

        Jesus wept.

  7. Harry Harris

    The assault on Christmas that concerns me occurred long ago when it was determined to be commercially viable. Lack of snowflakes on an overpriced cup of coffee doesn’t diminish the religiosity of an already secular holiday. Why should Christians be concerned about a lack of promotion by government, commerce, or any other entity outside the faith? Maybe losing hold of favored status has some adherents feeling persecuted, but that’s pretty much the earthly reward promised several places in the gospels and a few other canonical books. Paul spoke of rejoicing in (because) of his sufferings, but I don’t think that’s what’s at play here. More of a “waaah, poor us!”

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I believe a bunch of religious demagogues, who may be sincere for all I know, have found that creating a sense of outraged persecution solidifies and energizes their “flock.” Fighting one’s perceived persecution sells a lot better than following a path of humility and generosity….

  8. Scout

    I am a Christian and I like coffee, and I don’t care at all what color the cups are or what’s on them. I will still buy the coffee. OK, if they put satanic mean messages on their cups, I would probably care. But mostly, it’s their right to be as secular or non religious as they want, and I can respect that and still buy the coffee. Another thing that I think is stupid about this is that the Starbucks Christmas cups have mostly had secular symbols of the season on them anyway. I would argue that the red/green color scheme is just as much of a secular symbol as the other things, so I don’t see much of a change. They are still selling a “Christmas” blend coffee, so they don’t seem to be trying to avoid using the term there. I think the whole thing is silly. Maybe the line will be shorter. Yay!

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