As I Was Saying

Starbucks and the Bethlehem Star

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Some Christians have stirred up controversy over the cups Starbucks will use to hold coffee this winter, declaring the red cups part of a “war on Christmas.” It makes me wonder, what “Christmas” is under attack?

In the past, Starbucks cups during this season have included snowflakes and reindeer, snowmen and ornaments for evergreen trees, so I’m not sure what “Christmas” symbols have been removed. If these are the symbols of “Christmas,” then they only make sense in northern climates. Much of the world has never seen a reindeer or touched a snowman.

So what “Christmas” are we defending from attack? If it’s a “Christmas” with trees and ornaments, presents and Santa, eggnog and cookies, well, then, attack away.  That’s a civic holiday, not the Christmas I feel obliged to defend.

Here’s the Christmas I’m willing to defend: the Son of God taking on human flesh, born of the virgin Mary, so that he could preach and teach the kingdom of God, demonstrating it with power as he gave sight to the blind and made the lame walk. And so that he could die and rise again, that we might die with him to sin and rise with him to a new life.

But this Starbucks controversy is just one more in a long line of defending as “Christian” what is merely cultural. We’ve had attacks on biblical marriage, although in the Old Testament marriages often included multiple wives. We’ve bemoaned attacks on “biblical family values,” when what its defenders describe—mom and dad and a couple kids—can hardly be found on the pages of Scripture. Families in the Bible tend to be multi-generational compounds of children and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents living together. And there’s the biblical notion that singleness is a preferred, or at least an honored, state.

So perhaps during this season I’ll sit down with my friend over an overpriced cup of coffee and talk about how Christmas has nothing to do with trees and lights and garland and ornaments, nothing to do with reindeer and sleighs and elves and jolly ol’ Saint Nick, nothing to do with snowmen or snowflakes or designs on coffee cups.  I’ll tell my friend about Christmas. I’ll tell about the love of God for the world gone astray, a love so great that the Son of God left the splendor of his throne to become human, born to a virgin. I’ll tell how while he was a baby his family became refugees, fleeing to a foreign land to save their lives. I’ll tell how he lived, and about the kingdom he taught, and how he died an innocent man to save all of us guilty people.  I’ll tell about the day he was raised again to life. And I’ll tell how in Jesus we can find new life, real joy, and a love for God and for neighbor and for the world God has made.

And when I tell about Christmas, the design on the cup won’t matter.

About the Author

Jeff Sadjak is dean of students at Calvin Theological Seminary and a regular contributor to “As I Was Saying.” 

See comments (1)


Hey Jeff, thanks for a thoughtful article concerning the coffee cups at Starbucks.  That’s a deep topic.  What’s going on there?  I, like you, doubt that there is a war on Christianity.  In fact, I think Starbucks could give a rip about Christianity or any other religion. And that’s the point.  They simply want to stay away from any religious wars.  They want to sell coffee and not religion, and who can blame them?  We are living in an increasingly multi cultural and multi religional society.  Increasingly people are questioning the value and validity of any religion over another.  And Starbucks is just saying, leave us out of the debate.  Plain cups will appeal to all.

You may suggest looking forward to sitting down with a friend and a cup of coffee while recalling the ancient Christian message of God’s love in Christ.  But unless your friend is a Christian, he/she probably would, like Starbucks, just as soon not hear about the most meaningful Christmas story there is, whether that be the Christian, Muslim, Jehovah Witness, Hindu, or Jewish Christmas story.

The Christmas story that seems to bind our culture together is the story of Santa bringing joy and good will to children and adults alike.  It’s a festive time for family and friends with merry expressions of love, gift giving (although most would agree that we go to excess), and putting aside personal differences to feel a bond of love to one another.  It’s a wonderful season (a respite from the normal) to enjoy each other over festive seasonal foods and of course a great cup of coffee.  Maybe a snowflake or a red nosed reindeer would be a nice touch to a coffee cup.  I think Starbucks made the right decision.