You’ve probably heard something over the last few days about the controversy that may or may not be swirling around Starbucks’ holiday coffee cups. Every year around this time, Starbucks introduces a new holiday themed cup, which is red and usually has snowflakes, reindeer, tinsel, snowmen, or Christmas tree ornaments. They are never explicitly religious. This year, they are simply red, and a “social media evangelist” posted an outraged Youtube video. The first time I watched the video I was not sure that it wasn’t a hoax, since the “social media evangelist” is named Joshua Feuerstein -- an unexpected name for a Christian evangelist. And predictably enough, Donald Trump weighed in on the controversy and promised that if he is elected President, we would all be saying “Merry Christmas.” One assumes that among those saying “Merry Christmas” would be Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter and her three children.
Although Starbucks has “holiday” themed and not “Christmas” themed cups, they do have a “Christmas blend” coffee which happens to be my favorite blend, and I usually buy a couple of bags of it.
You may perhaps know that the first Starbucks on the East Coast was located on Wisconsin Ave NW between Macomb and Newark Streets, and I would often stop in there on my way to my job as Hillel Director at American University. One of the baristas there was a young man named Tarek, an Egyptian-American Muslim who was a student at AU and had taken a course I taught as an adjunct in the History Department. On the day I came in to buy a pound of “Christmas blend” he paused for a moment and then let me know that they also offered the same coffee in a blue bag that said “holiday blend” and he offered to put the coffee in the holiday rather than Christmas bag. I told him that I was fine with the Christmas blend bag and we both had a little chuckle. It seems to me that if your faith depends either way on the presence or absence of the word “Christmas” on your coffee cup or bag, then Starbucks coffee is a lot stronger than your faith.