After coming under fire from many in the Christian community for removing all references to Christmas from its seasonal red cups, Starbucks issued a statement explaining why the coffee chain chose the new design and reiterating its dedication to welcoming "customers from all backgrounds."
"When red Starbucks cups return, it's a signal that the holiday season is drawing near," the company said in a statement. "This year's iconic red Starbucks cup features a two-toned ombré design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below."
The popular coffee chain said that it has created red holiday cups since 1997, explaining that, each year, the cup design has "told a story of the holidays by featuring symbols of the season from vintage ornaments and hand-drawn reindeer to modern vector-illustrated characters."
Starbucks said that the plain, red cups mimic "a blank canvas" and that customers can use to tell their own stories. The company explained that the new design is a "more open way to usher in the holidays."
"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs," Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks vice president of design and content, said in a statement. "This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."
"Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays," Fields added. "We're embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It's more open way to usher in the holiday."
The coffee chain added that being diverse and inclusive is one of the brand's "core values."
"Starbucks will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world," the press release concludes.
As reported by the Gospel Herald, some Christian groups took offense to the new design, arguing that it represents growing secularism and a widespread "War on Christmas."
The debate escalated when Christian evangelist Joshua Feuerstein slammed the red cups in a Facebook video on November 5, sparking the viral hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks.
"I think in the age of political correctness we've become so open minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head," Feuerstein said in the video. "Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That's why they're just plain red."
The evangelist said that he recently went into Starbucks, ordered a drink and told the barista that his name was "Merry Christmas" - forcing the barista to say the words aloud and pen the phrase on his cup.
"Instead of simply boycotting, why don't we just start a movement?" Feuerstein says in the video.
Since it was posted on Thursday, Feuerstein's video has been viewed more than 12 million times and shared by over 453,000.
In response to Feuerstein's call to action, some took to social media to share photos of their Starbucks cups featuring their "names," while others posted their own messages condemning the seeming assault on Christianity.
Others, however, have harshly criticized the campaign: "This, my friends, is everything wrong with American Christianity," writes Nate Lake, a self-described Christian blogger and Starbucks employee. "Boko Haram has killed 3,500 people in terrorist attacks in Africa this year, many of which have targeted Christians. Up to 340,000 people have been killed in the crisis ravaging Syria over the last four years. ISIS continues to target both Christians and Muslims as it terrorizes the Middle East. Don't forget, about 30 million people are currently stuck in the horrors of modern slavery. Let's also add the racial injustice that's drowning America in turmoil. But hey, have you seen those new Christ-less Starbucks cups?"
Speaking to Today.com, Feuerstein explained that the #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign is about far more than just a cup.
"This was never about boycotting a company, but rather making a statement that we refuse to be silent anymore. The vocal minority has bullied the silent majority for too long and now we simply say 'No More!,'" he said.
"Again, this is not about a cup," Feuerstein added. "This is about a much bigger war on Christmas that has seen nativity scenes taken down, Christmas trees not allowed in malls, and all in the name of political correctness. As consumers, we are saying that those who attempt to take Christ out of Christmas will be met with fierce opposition."