Starbucks’ Red Cup and the Creeping Commercial Advent

The new sign of the season.

The new sign of the season.

I walked into Cost Plus World Market a couple of weeks ago to buy some coffee. As I made my way to the coffee aisle I suddenly realized the familiar Christmas colors of red, white and green were surrounding me. I smiled a bit as I pulled out my phone to check the date.

It wasn’t even Halloween yet.

Not long after that, and only days after Halloween had passed, I began to see people carrying around the iconic “red cup” from Starbucks. This little cup that keeps your coffee and hands warm has become an unofficial cultural marker that we have entered the holiday season.

Shortly afterwards I began seeing emails and television commercials promoting early “Black Friday” or holiday sales that were starting well before the “traditional” Black Friday day-after-Thanksgiving sales. This also included promotion for which stores would be opening later on Thanksgiving after (I assume) workers were given the minimum time deemed necessary to spend with family and friends.

Every year it seems stores start promoting holiday and Christmas merchandise earlier and sales creep deeper into November or sometimes into October. The underlying narrative seems to say that you need to start planning and purchasing for the holidays now. If you do not, that precious sale or sought after item (remember the Tickle-Me-Elmo fiasco?) will be gone and your loved one will end up in a heap of tears below your under-decorated, dried out Christmas tree that you waited till the last-minute to buy. You would not want to ruin your family’s Christmas or other festive holiday celebration now would you?

I’m calling shenanigans on ALL of that.

One thing the Bible reminds us over and over is the importance of time and the less-importance of money, stuff, things and treasures. There’s the famous verse in Ecclesiastes which states, “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 CEB, but keep reading through 8 or listen to the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds.). The importance of time and season in the Bible has become even more clear to me as I learned to appreciate the Christian lectionary calendar more and more. I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not recognize the Christian calendar outside of our normal celebrations of Christmas and Easter. I was eventually introduced to Advent and Lent but it would not be until my time in seminary that I discovered the scope and beauty of the Christian calendar.

Generally speaking, Advent begins the Christian year which leads into the season of Christmas (yes, Christmas season for Christians actually begins AFTER Christmas day). After Christmas comes Epiphany followed by Lent, Easter and Pentecost. After Pentecost we move into Ordinary time for the rest of the Christian year until we reach Advent again. We are currently wrapping up Ordinary time as we approach the Christian New Year with the arrival of Advent. There’s a few more things in there depending on the various traditions, but that’s basically the Christian year in a nutshell.

Since we’re still officially in Ordinary time, lets ruminate on that for a second in light of these early “Black Friday” and “Red Cup” cultural icons. The majority of the Christian year runs between Advent and Pentecost. Marking those seasons are great Feasts and memorials the two major ones being Christmas and Easter. During Ordinary time, there are no major feasts beyond the regular Sunday observance. It’s Ordinary time because, well, it’s pretty ordinary. It’s the time to recognize and acknowledge that there are times when life is ordinary. Returning to the Ecclesiastes verse mentioned previously, there is “a time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away, a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,” (Ecclesiastes 3:6-7 CEB). There is a time for everything, and sometimes that time is just spent being ordinary. There is a time for going about, doing your regular everyday business of living, working, family life, hobbies and sleeping. In fact, this is how we spend the majority of our life. The Christian calendar recognizes and honors that time of just…being. The more we let “Black Friday” or the “Red Cup” infringe on that Ordinary time and try to pull us into something that it’s not really the right time for we can get caught up in the fervor of chasing the next “special” thing and miss the value of the ordinary. When we’re talking about “Black Friday” and the “Red Cup” that chasing usually involves spending money. The value to time is quickly overshadowed by the value of our spending and monetary value. Listen to the news and a “good” holiday season would be one where shoppers spend their time spending lots of money (see how we can “spend” money and “spend” time in the same sentence?). There is little to no mention of the valuable time shared with family, friends or volunteering. Our value is not based on the time we spend, but on the money we spend. Just as the Egyptians valued Hebrew slaves in Exodus by the amount of bricks they could produce, so to does our modern culture and economy place a value on the amount of money we can make and spend.

It is exhausting to live our lives a constant chase of the next, newest, bigger and more special thing. There are ordinary times to live life and to wait. There is a right time for things and a wrong time for things. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes, “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people,” (Romans 5:6 CEB). The Greek word behind “at the right moment” is the word kairos (καιρός). This word translates elsewhere as “seasons” and generally refers to an appropriate or timely moment and not just generically referring to the passage of time. Paul is telling us that God revealed his plan through Jesus at the right moment. Jesus did not come early, he did not come late, he came precisely when he was meant to. As Christians, we should acknowledge that there is a “right moment” for things. By staying in Ordinary time and waiting for Advent and we resist the whispers of culture that it’s time for the Holidays which also subconsciously means it’s time to get out and shop. The more we can wait for the kairos moment, we begin to learn to value the time we are in. Even if it is ordinary we can value the present moment, instead of always looking for (or coveting) the next special moment.

Advent will come.

Christmas is not far behind.

Can we still be ordinary for a little longer?

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