The Deal with the Starbucks Holiday Cups

We all know the holidays would be nothing without Starbucks releasing their iconic cups each year. Yet, we also know it would be nothing without the controversies that seem to always come with it. As an article published by Fortune stated: If Starbucks adds Santa Claus or implements something that could be seen as “overly Christian,” they will be criticized for not being inclusive. If they try to meet the public’s demands and switch their design, they will be bombarded with comments on how the cup is not “Christmasy” enough. 

In 2015, as usual, Starbucks released a new holiday cup, however, Starbucks’ did not predict what would come next. With a simple gradient from light red down to a darker shade of red, Starbucks got criticized for their holiday cups “not being Christmasy enough.” People went as far as to accused Starbucks of “hating Jesus” and were under the threat of being boycotted. With no specific designs or symbols, Starbucks went along to claim that their new cups were meant to be inclusive and more of “a blank canvas to personalize.” 

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Starbucks’ 2015 designless red holiday cup with a slight ombre from a bright red to a dark cranberry shade. Photo from Starbucks’ webpage.

And this is only the start. From here, the displeasure only grew.  

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Starbucks’ 2016 temporary holiday cup featuring more than 100 people all connected with one line to symbolize “unity” and remind people of their “shared values.”  Photo: NBC News.

In 2016, Starbucks released a holiday cup, or also known as the “Unity Cup” which stirred up some commotion amongst the public. Different from the usual red holiday cups, Starbucks got criticized for making the cups green. Prior to the upcoming election, they got accused of “political brainwashing” and possibly sneaking in some implicit liberal bias into their seemingly normal cups. Starbucks gave no response to these accusations, however, reassured people that this cup was not going to be the new holiday cup, however, a temporary design feature.

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Starbucks’ 2017 holiday cup recently released and criticized for the two holding hands with genders that are unclear at the top of the cup, supposedly promoting a “gay agenda.” Photo from Uproxx website.

And finally, as of right now in 2017, the disputes continue. Critics have argued that this season’s holiday cup supposedly promoted LGBTQ+ rights. What seemed to further propel this debate was the advertisement Starbucks released for their holiday cup. It did not take long for people to question the two women sharing a cup of coffee in which people assumed may have been a lesbian couple.

Check out the video below to see how SAS students reacted to this controversy in the past couple years and their thoughts on the new holiday cup.

At this point, it does not come off as a surprise to learn that along with their cute holiday cups, Starbucks also ends up having to fight off some angry people.  Fear not:  The standard cups have now returned and we should be able to ward off debate for at least 11 months.  On second thought, maybe we should spend more time focusing on getting together with our family and friends rather than calling out Starbucks for their paper coffee cups. After all, that’s really what the holidays were supposed to be about.

Author: Han Sohn

Han Sohn is the Chief Marketing Strategist for The Eye, and this is her second year working as a reporter for The Eye. Currently a senior, she is reaching her eighth year at SAS and fifteenth year in Singapore. At school, on most days, she can be found sharing relatable memes with her friends and updating posts on her bullet journing account @jahm.studies (in collaraboration with three other seniors). At home, she can be found binge-watching American Horror Story, or Black Mirror, or lying on her bed streaming the latest horror movies. She can be contacted at

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