The International Student: Starbucks’ Christmas crisis

With Halloween long past us and our days shortening into emaciated slivers of daylight, we have found ourselves once again in that premature inauguration of the Christmas season. Bleeding red with the great spectre that haunts America, the hobgoblin of cultural Marxism, Starbucks has found itself at the centre of an uproarious controversy over their new, minimalistic seasonal cups for Christmas. After unveiling their new cups, which are now plain red sleeves which otherwise mask a shockingly overpriced coffee, our perennial Christmas crusaders have located this year’s strategic outpost for the war on Christmas. With their heavy artillery of jaundiced Twitter posts and the ultimatum of a boycott, it seems as though war has indeed broken out over pumpkin-spiced frontiers.

Starbucks’ bold move to remove the outlines of Christmas paraphernalia has been interpreted as indicative of a pernicious trend warring against all things Christian in America. One of the leaders of the campaign against the cup posted on Facebook, “Starbucks removed Christmas from their cups because they hate Jesus.” Not being particularly good at discerning the underlying motives behind simple cup-designs myself, I confess a great degree of admiration for the sheer deductive penetration exhibited by this comment.

“What next?”, we all ask in horror with baited breath. First our favourite, monolithic coffee company de-Christmasises their cups, then we wage a genocide on evergreen trees, then ‘cultural Marxists’ have us celebrate Stalin’s birthday (the 18th of December; close enough!) in lieu of Christmas? When will it stop, when will the Jesus-hating powers that be, let civil American Christians celebrate the arbitrarily calculated birthday of their Lord in peace and without harassment? Let Christmas be Christmas: a time for bickering, sanctimony, and feeling uniquely and directly assaulted by anything that does not reek of social theocracy.

If there is anything to be taken away from this it is not an awareness of certain American Christians’ persecution complex but rather the dangers of tokenism and the toxicity of consumer culture. When Christmas becomes largely identical with the consumption and exchange of Christmas goods, it is only predictable that many will react with dismay when one of those goods becomes modified so as no longer to be unambiguously a Christmas good. When the content our experiences of holidays, social life and festivities are made out to be consumable, we have already let the invisible hand of the market squat on our souls.

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It is precisely the link established between our needs, projects, and desires for those products which we consume which is really the malady at play in this strange pantomime.

Our deep-seated commitments and desires, from friendship to religious practice, all suffer when our agency as consumers becomes a necessary vehicle for them. Our anger at the likes of Starbucks masks a greater deficit in our love of Christmas festivities and ritual. When people feel that Christmas is constituted by a set of goods, which include disposable cups housing overly sweet seasonal coffee – that is the war on Christmas. Those at fault are not primarily the corporations but those who have reduced their agency to basic commodity consumption and fetishism.