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Do the new Starbucks Christmas-themed cups embrace the holiday?

Stars, stripes, flames and coffee cherries, all adorned in cheerful shades of red and green.

These are the four designs included in Starbucks' latest batch of seasonally themed cups, which debut Friday as the company kicks off the holiday season. This year, the coffee-making titan said it wanted to “look to the past” and draw inspiration from its signature Christmas blend.

Straightforward enough, right? Well - for some reason - it isn't.

The cups seem harmless, granting consumers a festive way to enjoy their favorite sugary - and sometimes over-the-top - beverages. But in recent years, watching some of Starbucks's seasonal design choices trigger controversy has become a holiday tradition in itself.

In 2015, for example, the company introduced a plain red holiday cup, ending a string of designs that featured more explicit holiday symbols, such as ornaments and reindeer, dating to 1997.

Soon afterward, self-described evangelist Joshua Feuerstein posted a now- infamous rant on Facebook, slamming the coffee chain's design choice. He exclaimed 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!”

In 2017, Starbucks went a different route - crafting a white design with doodles that encouraged customers to decorate and color the cup to their liking. But the doodles included two interlocked hands that some interpreted as belonging to a same-sex couple. This upset those who believed the cup's design unnecessarily promoted a “gay agenda.”

This year, the question from 2015 returns: Is Starbucks truly embracing Christmas?

A CNN article published Thursday suggests as much. In the article, titled “Starbucks is doubling down on Christmas with its new holiday cups,” Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer said the company had “listened to customers” and realized they “loved the tradition of Christmas.”

Brewer said Starbucks realized that last year's cup design “didn't resonate with some, but it did resonate with others.” She also told CNN that this year's cups are “not only retro, but true to who we are.”

Beth Egan, an associate professor of advertising at Syracuse University, said she doesn't think the latest batch of cups reflect any one holiday in particular.

“They have a nice array of images that sort of play to Christmas from the red and green standpoint,” Egan said. “But if you look at the star, it could just as easily be a Star of David.” (The Jewish symbol has six points, however, while the cup shows a five-pointed star.)

Egan said she thinks some groups may be actively looking to pick fights with Starbucks' designs because of the stances the company has taken on certain issues, such as same-sex marriage.

“I find the ire interesting,” Egan said. “I think some people are looking to be angry.”

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