Santa Claus, a Menorah, the nativity scene, Starbucks Red Cups. What do all of things have in common? They're cultural icons that represent the holiday season. Highly anticipated, each Starbucks Red Cup is expected to send a message about holiday cheer while also being trendy and charming. For people around the globe, the cup yields itself as both the perfect winter accessory and treat.

Although the first Red Cup debuted in 1997, the yearly specialty wasn't big news until about 2005. It's almost hard to imagine the Red Cups not being a big deal since they're expected each year and criticized heavily by some. But every trend has to start somewhere, right? Let's go back to the beginning and take a look at the evolution of the Starbucks Red Cup.


Since Facebook wasn't actually a thing until 2004, we begin our Red Cup journey in 2004. With a bow and some snowflakes, I'd like to think that Starbucks was doing a play on gift giving — a gift from them to each customer. #goals


Starbucks surprised the public with a different design for each size of cup in 2005. Each features the saying, "It only happens once a year" along with the strand of lights along the top, but the drawing differs.

In addition to the cup shown above, Starbucks had a cup with two kids reaching for a stocking, a father and son hanging the strand of lights, and a bow and mistletoe hanging from the strand of lights. It seems like 2005's goal was to bring everyone together — back at it again with the #goals.


Starbucks stuck to the different design per cup concept in 2006. In addition to the two cups above, there was also one with a parent and child hanging lights on trees, one with a large family around a long table, and one with people building snowmen together. Each, of course, has its own narrative tale to go along with its particular design. 

The theme of unity must have been a huge success in 2005 since they chose to stick with it in 2006. More than that, they enhanced the concept — in my humble opinion, these cups tug on the good ole heartstrings a bit more. So many feels.


2007 was the year of the most iconic Starbucks Red Cup up to that point in time. Using the theme "Pass the Cheer," the cups featured different illustrations of people exchanging gifts, pulling one another on sleds, caroling together, and ice skating together. There were also multiple holiday-themed sleeves to go along with these cups.

There was a huge ad campaign for "Pass the Cheer," which featured three short videos of human-animal interaction. I actually felt myself get a little lump in my throat while watching the "Bear Hug" video. Not sure if it's because I'm completely obsessed with Christmas, or if it's the hate and violence that is a result of the Trump presidency. So many feels last year, all the feels this year.


2008 brought about a more rustic, cozy Red Cup design. Although there was technically a different design for each size of cup, they all look pretty much the same. Some reindeer here, some trees there, a bird or a moon up top. While it's definitely a cute design, it doesn't necessarily scream any sentiments like the Red Cups from 2005-2007 did.


This Starbucks Red Cup is channeling its inner Christmas tree. With pine tree branches and ornaments featuring holiday-themed words, this cup seems like it's trying to redeem last year's lack of sentiment.

I personally like this design less than the previous year's, but Starbucks was really trying to bring the feels back here. It doesn't have the same sentimental factor as cups 2005-2007, but A for effort, right?


Disclaimer: Although the above photo is captioned 2011 cups, they really are the 2010 cups!

This round of cups began what is referred to as the "Creepy Characters" cups. I can't say that I don't agree... While they have cute aspects, they are overall kind of creepy. None of the living beings have complete faces. Maybe the design team had a really bomb ass Halloween and they just couldn't let it go. Who knows?


"Creepy Characters" continued in 2011, unfortunately. While the phrases on the cups were (kind of) cute, the design just doesn't do it for me. My inner basic girl would not want me to take an artsy photo with these Red Cups. 


2012 is the last we will see (hopefully ever) of the "Creepy Characters." 'Nough said.


Starbucks finally got back in the groove with these festive, ornament-covered Red Cups. The trendy, shiny gold detailing on the cups gives them an extra zing, and I'm willing to say that these Red Cups would have been less successful without it. 


Just when we thought Starbucks got their head in the game (yes, that it absolutely a High School Musical reference), THIS HAPPENED. I don't know if their creative team was having a rough year, but these Red Cups look like they were slapped together. The tree design looks like a bunch of sloppy paint strokes. #fail


I don't know about you, but 2015 was the year that I realized that Starbucks Red Cups are a very BIG deal to a lot of people. Minimizing their design, Starbucks went with a trendy ombre cup. While I personally liked it, there was a lot of controversy about the company taking the Christmas out of the cups.

The outrage of the public made me chuckle, to be honest. People were boycotting Starbucks for putting out "Atheist" (insert eye roll)  cups. That's completely ridiculous to me because none of the previous cups have anything to do with religion in a direct sense. They're more generally holiday-themed, and I think that's exactly what Starbucks was trying to do with the 2015 Red Cup. In recent years, the US has made a lot of progress toward equality. Starbucks was simply promoting a holiday season geared toward each individual customer, regardless of religion and beliefs. That's why I think this cup is beautiful — what it represents is greater than its appearance.

The 2015 cups also inspired people all over the world to create their own Red Cups, which really caught on in the social media world. There are so many beautifully designed cups, and the fact that people took it upon themselves to create their own cups reinforces the fact that this truly was a year of progress and individuality, not of discrimination and hate. 


Starbucks very nearly caused the world to have another meltdown when they released their Green Cups at the beginning of November. With a single, unending line connecting each drawn figure and face, these cups represent unity — a much needed message after the 2016 election. 

While some people complained that none of the faces on the cup represent Santa or Jesus, and therefore the cups are igniting yet another war on Christmas (insert second, more dramatic eye roll), I think the message is beautiful, graceful, and absolutely necessary.

A lot of the public's outrage over the Green Cups revolved around the impression that Starbucks would not be putting out Red Cups this year. However...

This year, the world was given 13 beautifully different Starbucks Red Cups, and the concept is even more amazing: each cup design is from a customer drawing on a 2015 cup. A few of the designs include birds and flowers, a Christmas-inspired sleigh ride, and a snowflake sweater.

The real message that Starbucks is putting out is that regardless of the way in which we celebrate, we are all one people.

So there ya have it, friends. Here's to being thankful for the Red Cups of the past, looking forward to the Red Cups of the future, and giving Starbucks a round of applause for continuing to put out a strong message of embracing our differences with love and kindness.