People are Very Confused by Starbucks’ New Holiday Cups

Starbucks has a rich tradition of creating holiday cups—along with seasonal holiday drinks—during the fall. And there’s also a tradition of criticizing those cups.

In 2015, conservative media and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump accused Starbucks of engaging in a “War on Christmas” because of the cups’ minimalist design. This year, the coffee giant changed things up by featuring holiday symbolism on the cups, but it still couldn’t avoid the handwringing and confusion.

How did this begin?

A promotional video for the holiday cups, which were unveiled on Nov. 1, shows two women looking at each other with hands clasped over a warm drink. The relationship between the women is unclear.


On Nov. 6, the British LGBT Awards praised the ad via Twitter, saying “We’re loving @Starbucks’ new festive ad with a lesbian couple.”

Last week a BuzzFeed article speculated on whether the cup was “totally gay” because of the women in the promotional video. The cup also features a pair of disembodied hands that may or not be of a same-sex couple.

Fox News responded to the BuzzFeed story, and explained the controversy to its viewers. Conservative site The Blaze also weighed in on whether or not Starbucks was promoting a “gay agenda,” but noted, “there were many more tweets mocking Fox News for reporting, ‘Starbucks’ holiday cups accused of pushing ‘gay agenda’ than there were those actually outraged about the cups.”

(The articles from BuzzFeed, Fox News, and The Blaze, all focus on the same several tweets to make their point.)

Starbucks has not stated whether the ad features a lesbian couple

This year’s Starbucks holiday theme is “the holidays mean something different to everyone,” as stated in the video. The cups feature drawn scenes of people celebrating the season by showing their hands.

“This year’s hand-drawn cup features scenes of celebrating with loved ones — whoever they may be,” Sanja Gould, a company spokeswoman, told the New York Times. “We intentionally designed the cup so our customers can interpret it in their own way, adding their own color and illustrations.”

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.