It's hard to imagine a paper cup being so controversial, but Starbucks' annual holiday cup is now just that. The tradition of serving its joe in seasonal holders began in 1997, when a jazzy Santa debuted cup-side. From there the designs switched from snowmen and snowflakes to ornaments and carolers. And then, in 2015, the cup went minimalist: The "design" was an all-red affair — cherry at the top and slowly fading to a dusky ruby at the bottom [source: Whitten].
Starbucks officials said its plain red cup was intended to spur customers to create their own holiday doodles on the side. But some cried foul, saying the coffee giant was snubbing its nose at Christmas. No way, said defenders, noting there are always plenty of seasonally appropriate items for sale inside the Starbucks shops, including CDs, cookies and even Advent calendars. But the dust-up continued all through December [source: Whitten].
In 2016, Starbucks appeared eager to stave off more controversy while also poking fun at the previous year's situation. On Nov. 1, the coffee giant rolled out green cups covered with a sea of people, meant to represent unity. Then, on Nov. 10, its red cups debuted. The 2016 cups feature designs created by 13 customers from six countries, which apparently did not generate the contention of previous years [source: Goldman]. For 2017, Starbucks featured a red cup with a white heart where you could write someone's name.