A very talented designer/illustrator I’ve worked with in the past contacted me recently, asking for help conceiving a holiday promo he could send to his clients. His idea was to play on the Starbucks semi-controversy in which some believed that the coffee dynasty was “taking Christ out of Christmas” by offering all-red cups – with no message of holiday greeting – during the gift-giving season. He wanted to send a lidded coffee cup branded with his business identity along with a set of stickers that recipients could use to personalize it according to their religious tradition.
(Of course, the geniuses who populate Facebook with funny memes and witty images had already gone on the counter-attack, swiftly posting pictures of all-blue Starbucks cups for Hanukkah and other such parodies of the latest evidence that our culture is simply too small-minded to sustain itself. But no matter: my friend and I were small-minded enough to proceed anyway.)
We discussed different options and I suggested that in addition to the stickers, he put a checklist on the cup, enabling people to check off the seasonal greeting they found most appropriate – or least offensive. The choices we settled on are: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, Happy Holidays, and Happy ____________. The stickers, meanwhile, feature his perfect transformations of the Starbucks logo into a Santa and a rabbi, as well as various symbols of winter and its abundance of observances. I’m sure it will be a hit.
On the other hand, there is a certain annoyance I feel with the growing backlash to political correctness, which I suppose can be called religious correctness. Political correctness can be annoying as well, but its goal is noble: not to offend anyone. It tends to achieve this by being as bland as possible. Religious correctness, on the other hand, is about insisting that one’s own personally held religious beliefs and practices be imposed on everyone. This is generally achieved by being as provocative as possible.
Now, the all-red Starbucks cup didn’t offend me (although, as a writer, I envied the wide-open space that could have borne some creative prose). But what if it had said Merry Christmas? As a Jewish person, I wouldn’t have been offended, but I definitely would have felt excluded. Would that have kept me from buying coffee at Starbucks? No. But then, I don’t drink coffee to begin with and couldn’t even begin to tell you the names of their cup sizes.
So what’s the big deal? The deal, I guess, is in the eyes of the beholder. People have a need to be acknowledged – on their coffee cups, no less. But anyone in business knows that customization comes with costs. It simply isn’t cost-effective to make up Christmas cups for Christians, Hanukkah cups for Jews, and so on. Maybe what we need is a mega-merger. Take all the December holidays and make them one single Holiday for Everyone. Call it something like Christukkazaastice so that Christ is still in it. It could be a 10-day celebration with candles, trees, fruitcakes, potato pancakes, and of course, lots of coffee. No one need be offended, just lots of gifts and goodwill to all.
If that seems unlikely, then I propose an alternate solution. Be like your coffee cup, and put a lid on it.