Every early-November, a lovely woman I used to work with would come in to the office, hands cupped joyously—reverently almost—around a tall vanilla latte in a bright red container, serene smile on her face as she breathed in the warm, sweet scent and sighed: “It’s like Christmas in a cup.”
So when I saw Starbucks Red Cups trending on social media these past few days, I was first struck with a sense of happy nostalgia, remembering that soft kind of joy—remembering the actual physical Starbucks that lived just off the Square, just close enough to the office that a trip there, back, and with a 5-7 person line in front of you could be made while on a lunch break without missing time; remembering the man who, weather permitting, played an old piano on the corner of the street, dressed to the nines and drawing applause; remembering the kindness of my supervisor, when we walked that way, who always bought her friends who lived outside a deliciously sticky and indulgent canelé from a local bakery, to the widest and most joyous of smiles, the other-end of the spectrum from my colleague and her Christmas-in-a-cup, and yet: perhaps not.
Perhaps not so opposite.
Because apparently, Starbucks Red Cups haven’t been trending because they’re an admittedly-consumerist symbol of a season of traditional warmth and light and giving and a kind of sacred appreciation of the world around you (because in the US, at least, Red Cups come out before Thanksgiving, which is also a winter holiday, and is also a part of the season I’m referencing). No: as it happens, Starbuck Red Cups are trending as a talking point because they’re not“Christmas-y Enough”; in fact, they represent a war on Christmas! Because they lack the previous, clearly religious iconography of past years (that’s sarcasm, for the record), and thus represent an outright assault on the Christian faith and its values.
Thankfully, I got in on this debacle (it’s a miracle, what moving to another country can do for one’s perspective) late enough in the game that other people have done most of the hard work of pointing out just how misguided this entire scenario really is—from the fact that it’s just not a rationally sound argument, to the larger societal question of what Christmas means from a religious perspective, or even a secular one—so I don’t have to waste time here with thatendeavor.
Which means what I can do, here, is start to ask the real question at the foundation of this debacle. Which is: why are we so keen to see conflict everywhere? What is our war really on?
I could get technical and cite Girard, talk about mimetic desire and rivalry and violence and the need to scapegoat something in order to re-establish a status quo—but what I’m going to do instead is cite the BBC television show,Doctor Who, which summed my point up with impeccable pop-culture eloquence this past weekend: