In an email, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the company’s baristas “are not provided a script or a policy around greeting customers. They are simply encouraged to create a welcoming environment to delight each person who walks through our doors.” So, no, Feuerstein isn’t right—there’s no ban on Christmas greetings at Starbucks. That being said, Starbucks is a global company that serves millions of customers per day at over 23,000 stores in 68 countries, including the United States, which is home to people who celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, other holidays, or nothing at all in December. They can’t, as a matter of protocol, wish everyone a Merry Christmas. For those who really, really need their barista to wish them a Merry Christmas to find their delight, Feuerstein has a solution: Tell her your name is “Merry Christmas,” and then she’ll have to say it when she’s fixed your hot beverage of choice.
“Guess what, Starbucks—I tricked you!” Feuerstein says. Clever, clever.
The video has been viewed 12 million times. There’s a hashtag. (Sadly for Feuerstein, most of those using it are there to say his campaign is dumb.) And the campaign has been covered as “news” by such esteemed publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Doing what newspapers do, they dutifully show both “sides” of the “issue,” treating Feuerstein’s post as if it’s a Serious Cultural Thing.
Which, maybe it is, but that doesn’t make it any less inane, ironic, or misguided. Insofar as the Great Starbucks Cup Controversy of 2015 is at all meaningful, it’s a chance to examine the way mass culture gets created and enforced by corporations, and also to look at how damaging trivial pushback against that mass culture can be.
Big business is one of the main aggressors in the War on Christmas. Bill O’Reilly, the War’s patron saint, has long objected to the oh-so-P.C. “Happy Holidays” greeting in stores and on cards, claiming the milquetoast phrase represents a suppression of Christian culture in mainstream American life.
The thing is, he’s got a point. When businesses make the decision to express religiously neutral seasonal greetings, or decorate their stores with non-explicitly Christian holiday symbols, they are making a strategic business decision to try and appeal to a broad and diverse consumer base in the United States, a lot of which is not Christian or religious. That decision is motivated by profit, but it is not culturally meaningless. Advertisements surround us. Almost every interaction in contemporary life involves some sort of monetary transaction, typically with a major corporation, especially around the holidays: Meeting an old friend for coffee involves buying coffee, often at Starbucks; spending the holidays with family involves buying gifts for family, often at Target or Walmart or wherever. With corporations so thoroughly enmeshed with culture, it’s difficult to argue that they don’t play a significant role in mediating culture. So, point for you, War on Christmas folks.