Glaciers, coffee cups and a better way to holiday

Workers put together the SouthPark Christmas tree, which replaced the ill-fated SouthPark glacier.
Workers put together the SouthPark Christmas tree, which replaced the ill-fated SouthPark glacier. Devin Futrelle/WBTV

The Great SouthPark Glacier melted in only two days, liquidated not by the earth’s rising climate but the rising climate of mall shoppers. Will Starbucks’ new Santa Red but without Christmas symbols coffee cups meet the same fate?

The swirl over SouthPark’s replacement of its Christmas tree with a high-tech glacier where Santa would hang out began Friday afternoon. It went from zero-to-viral by the evening news.

The mall’s owners, the Simon Property Group, called the new attraction “fresh and exciting.” A statement proclaimed, “The reinvented and modernized experience will bring the Charlotte community together in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

What a classic case of conference room genius-ry. It reminded me of my own days in the Land of Corporate Stupid with McDonald’s. In those conference rooms I saw executives convince themselves a reinvented, modernized dinner experience would bring consumers together in a way that hadn’t been done before – and launch pizza.

The problems with SouthPark’s move are two-fold and too simple. First, the “Attack on Christmas” reaction. They had to know this was coming. Second, even to the secular culture, Santa Claus and Ho-Ho-Ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls are not about reinventing or modernizing. They’re about tradition. We don’t take attacks on traditions lightly either, Charlie Brown.

Some radio listeners told me SouthPark’s crime against Christmas came because the CEO of Simon Properties is a Jew. David Simon is indeed a recognized Jewish businessman. Barring a decree and short of speculation, how would I know his motives?

Figuring out if Starbucks dropping the Christmas symbols from its coffee cups was in fact a religious move is a little easier. They admitted it.

“Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks,” a press release declared. The company “will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions.”

Whether a simple DOH! moment born of corporate group-think or a calculated cultural incursion, the velocity and volume of the reaction to SouthPark and Starbucks was off the charts. You’d have thought the baby Jesus must have been born under a tree in a shopping mall or a fourth Wise Man had brought Joseph and Mary grande caramel macchiatos in collector cups, for the breadth of the backlash.

Jesus didn’t come here looking for props from marketers. His followers needed it, though, to validate them. Many still do.

At SouthPark, the glacier is gone, the Christmas tree is back and hearts are no longer troubled. Because nothing says Jesus like a giant metal skeleton of a megaphone decorated to look like a festive fir.

At Starbucks, the coffee is still being served in red cups sporting only the mermaid mascot, but an Arizona evangelist has found a way to beat the chain at its own game. Joshua Feuerstein is telling customers that when asked for their name they should answer, “Merry Christmas,” so the words are written on the pagan cups and the greeting called out when the beverage is ready.


Or, if the no-Christ-mas cups really bother you, Joshua, you could take the ten or thirty dollars you might drop on your designer coffees each week and go buy a homeless person lunch.

What would Jesus do?

Keith Larson can be heard Monday-Friday 9am-Noon on WBT AM/FM Radio.