The Starbucks Cup Kerfuffle and Black Friday

What does the Starbuck Holiday Cup Controversy have to do with Black Friday? Everything, it seems to me. But I have yet to hear a commentator anywhere —secular or Christian— make the connection. The 24-hour news cycle long ago pushed the cup story out of our collective memory, despite the fact that the “holidays” in question don’t start until this week.

S1cfdaK8-5616-3744I mean, do you even remember the Cup Kerfuffle? It was just two weeks ago, but it seems like forever…

Allegedly, a few Christians were horrified that Starbucks’ holiday cup was just….red. It didn’t have any “Christian” symbols, or any other symbols for that matter. So, they called for a boycott of Starbucks.

Other Christians rose to Starbucks’ defense, and chugged down an extra Venti, just to show solidarity. Secular folks chalked it up as yet another example of foolish Christian behavior.

Me? I don’t give a crap what Starbucks puts on their holiday cups. I’m not hostile towards them. I enjoy a good Eggnog Latte as much as the next guy. But a coffee cup is not gonna make or break my Christmas. And like many others, my initial reaction to the Cup Kerfuffle had me very close to jumping in the drive-through line, just to stand against the foolish Christians who were protesting the cups.

But I didn’t. Because, on reflection, it dawned on me that doing so would simply, ahem, “buy into” the Corporate Christmas. You see, Starbucks prints up millions of those cups every year, they break out the Gingerbread Lattes, not out of their deep commitment to the story of Jesus’ birth. They do it to capitalize —in the literal meaning of that word— on Christmas.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what corporations do. They “capitalize.” They maximize profits. That’s why they exist. But that agenda doesn’t have anything to do with the “real” Christmas, whatsoever. So, when allegedly Christians were up in arms about the cups, I thought to myself, “Really?”

They’re selling coffee. The cup is a coffee-delivery vehicle, nothing more. It’s not a Christian relic, or a secular sacrament. To either boycott them, or to buy them, is not a witness to faith in either direction, but a witness to the almighty power of Consumerism. (Consumerism I happen to like. But, Consumerism, nonetheless…)

Which brings me to Black Friday. Because nothing in recent years more symbolizes the excesses of Corporate Christmas Culture than Black Friday. And surely we all understand that, whatever Black Friday is, it’s not “Christian,” and it is in no way connected to the original Christmas story.

But! While Starbucks Cups and Black Friday have nothing to do with the real Christmas whatsoever, they have everything to do with each other.

Black Friday…Starbucks…the dozens of Christmas commercials scrolling across my television tonight….these are all examples of Corporate American trying to co-opt Christmas for their own money-making ends.

Corporations try to capitalize Christmas the way war-mongers steal and appropriate the symbols and rituals of religion.

A final observation. Not about Corporations, but about consumers. Starbucks sippers and Black Friday shoppers are two facets of consumerist culture that don’t always see eye to eye. Latte sippers and Blue Light Special seekers can tend to look down their respective noses at each other.

But both consumer groups have something fundamentally in common. In defending, or celebrating either, consumers are defending CORPORATIONS, not Jesus. Yes, the Magi gave Jesus gifts on that first Christmas. But they were gifts of symbolic meaning, .

To be very clear, giving gifts is not evil. Nor is an extra shot in your no-whip Peppermint Mocha. I’ll buy gifts for all my loved ones and staff. The Chestnut Praline Latte calls out to me…

I embrace portions of the commercial-holidays as much as the next person. Although I do loathe Black Friday –and consider it evil– for its crass, over-the-top, “Hunger Games” vibe.
(Yes, friends, people have died…)

I just refuse to equate the commercial Christmas with the real one.

And while I’m at it, I don’t give a rats ass how a store clerks greets me during the holidays either. Anything they say….Happy Holidays…Merry Christmas….Happy Hanukkah,…is done to support their corporate interests…whether it’s a secular greeting or a religious one.

Let’s all get a grip, folks. These things are about making gobs of money for gobs of businesses, not worshiping a savior born as a child.

And, as they do every year, The Advent Conspiracy is back with another great video to call us gently back to the real meaning of the season. Check it out:

As the video reminds us, the original Christmas was an improbable story of a small baby born to a peasant girl. A powerful symbol of God’s incarnate nature in the world. It was God kissing the world with God’s incarnate presence, reminding us that living without fear, and with love, is our true calling as human beings.

The powerful themes of the season are:
Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

None of which has anything to do with coffee or shopping on the day after Thanksgiving.

So, the whole point to this blog, here at the beginning of this Advent Season, is to call you back to the real meaning of Christmas once again. Whatever commercialism you choose in this year—whether you’re more Starbucks or WalMart, more “Small Business Saturday” or “none of the above”— never allow rampant commercialism, stress, worry, drown out the real meaning of the a season for you.

Corporations sell “Christmas.”
Christians celebrate Christmas.

And it’s important to be aware of the differences between the two.

Have a blessed Advent season, everyone.


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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of The Woods United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. For seventeen years, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas, Texas. Eric is an avid blogger and published author. Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy.

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