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Is Starbucks brewing a 'War On Christmas'?

This week, Starbucks unveiled new cups for the holiday season, which are solid red with the green Starbucks logo in the middle, with no candy canes, reindeer, or snowmen.

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    A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015.
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Starbucks invited controversy this week with new cups that are solid red with the green Starbucks logo in the middle.

While the cups' design may not seem objectionable on its face, the absence of snowmen, reindeer, candy canes and other iconography has prompted some to accuse the coffee company of waging a ‘War On Christmas'.

Breitbart London reports that MP David Burrowes, a conservative Christian of the British Parliament, has criticized Starbucks, saying “The Starbucks coffee cup change smells more of political correctness than a consumer-led change.” Burrowes added, “The public has a common sense grasp on the reality that at Christmas time, whether you have a Christian faith or not, Britain celebrates Christmas.”

In a statement on the Starbucks website, vice president of Design & Content Jeffrey Fields explained the thinking behind this year’s cups:

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Fields. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

Fields described the company as a “place of sanctuary during the holidays,” and said, with the red cups, Starbucks is “embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It’s a more open way to usher in the holiday.”

Starbucks is by no means the only company to face accusations of insufficient enthusiasm for the Advent season. The American Family Association, a nonprofit that promotes conservative Christian values, publishes an annual "Naughty or Nice list" that ranks retailers based on how frequently they use the word "Christmas."

"Nice" retailers include Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, Lowe's, and the AFA's own online store. "Naughty" ones include Barnes & Noble, Pet Smart, and Staples. (The AFA currently rates Starbucks as "medium," saying that it "refers to Christmas infrequently.")

These criticisms may sound frivolous, but they can have financial consequences for companies whose Yuletide spirit is deemed lackluster. In 2005, Wal-Mart instructed employees to greet shoppers with the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The company faced boycotts led by the AFA and The Catholic League, prompting greeters return to "Merry Christmas," the following year.

Such companies usually say these decisions are made in the spirit of inclusiveness. Critics usually reply that America celebrates Christmas.

Just over 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew also surveyed Americans on whether they believe stores should greet their customers with "Merry Christmas" or a less religious term, such as "Happy Holidays," 57 percent pick “Merry Christmas” and 27 percent selected the less religious terms.

But when a third option – "it doesn't matter" – was added, it became the most popular answer, with 46 percent saying it doesn't matter, 42 percent preferring “Merry Christmas,” and 12 preferring the less religious terms. 

As for Starbucks, not all conservative Christians are outraged at the company's seasonal cup design. Paul Batura, vice president of communications at Focus on the Family, told Fox News that images of snowflakes and carolers have little to do with the core message of Christmas.

"I wonder if we’re not overthinking or overanalyzing this,” he said.

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