The stretch of days between Christmas and New Year’s is an annual oddity, accentuated by our now firmly established tradition of traveling to my in-laws’ house in Louisiana for an extended vacation that lasts from Christmas Eve through Jan. 2 or 3, depending on which day the major college football bowl games fall that year.

This extended break from thinking about work, what to watch on Netflix and taking out the garbage can lead to scary thoughts about metaphysical topics like “the direction of my career” and “what it means to be a good parent” and “whether or not Jim Harbaugh will win a championship at Michigan before he decapitates a referee with his clipboard.”

It’s usually preceded by a burst of literary chutzpah in which I convince myself I should read big important books that would be laughable to consider the other 51 weeks of the year-books like Augustine’s “Confessions” or Plato’s “Republic” that I keep on the bookshelf to make me look smart. (And which remain safely tucked in my duffel bag for the duration of the trip.)

The extended break often leads to vast stretches of intellectual torpor brought on by the unending stream of college football, peanut butter bonbons and craft beer over which I bond with my father-in-law.

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And yet, on occasion, the torpor is interrupted by brief moments of utterly random yet startlingly clarifying intellectual thought and critical thinking, usually accompanied by my third cup of the high-octane “Christmas blend” my mother-in-law brews faithfully each morning, this being approximately 500 percent of my regular daily intake of caffeine.

One such moment occurred during this year’s break, accompanied by a George Michael playlist in the background. (Like I said, it’s a weird time of year.)

Consider this image:

So. Much. Caffeine. (Photo: John Graeber)

It’d be understandable to not appreciate this bizarre holiday interregnum as an ideal time to consider the annual sideshow known as “the war on Christmas,” it coming toward the tail end of that year’s skirmish, at which point everyone just wishes everyone else would shut up already.

But there is also the benefit of lessened tension, as conservative combatants breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they’ve successfully staved off the full destruction of the Christmas holiday for at least one more year, and liberals retreat to their lairs to lick their wounds and plot next November’s offensive.

Traditionally, two targets of ire serve as annual totems of the encroaching paganism that threatens holiday decorations everywhere: Target and Starbucks.

The internet makes much ado about the various perceived assaults on everyone’s favorite secularized religious holiday. This year, some Twitter users attempted to reclaim the season by using a bot that adorned their avatar with a Santa hat, a notable religious symbol, to be sure. Perhaps this was done ironically, but I typically don’t give tweeters that much credit.

Proving that susceptibility to manufactured controversy isn’t the sole purview of conservative media, various liberal outlets like CNBC had a grand old time reporting (mocking) the Christian outrage over the 2015 edition of Starbucks holiday cups, leaving the rest of us to figure out for ourselves that by “Christian” they meant one weirdo with a blog. (Though, to be fair, the “one weirdo with a blog” standard of sourcing has been broadly adopted across the cable news industry.)

Many businesses simply avoid controversy by not releasing seasonally themed merchandise. One can imagine the outrage provoked by a holiday edition of Monopoly inclusive of Festivus-inspired boulevards and avenues.

But courageous brands like Starbucks step into the breach and declare, “This is a holiday season, and gosh darn it, we’re going to celebrate with festively adorned merchandise that people can purchase.” Which, after all, is the Black Friday-approved “reason for the season.”

So let’s consider the two products in the image above. At first glance, they look fairly similar. Both are red, a tribute to the original Starbucks location in the Soviet Union. Both carry the now-famous mermaid logo, representing the founders’ devotion to paganism.*

Yet, the bagged product is clearly labeled “Christmas,” while the Keurig K-Cups are labeled “holiday.” Further, the “holiday” product includes overt Christmas iconography such as Christmas trees, presents and decorations, which are absent from the product labeled “Christmas.”

Do bagged coffee buyers tend to be more religious? Are most Keurig owners atheists? And if so, why the Christmas symbols? Does this represent an attempt by Starbucks to be everything to everyone, a plan with a long history of just pissing everyone off? Are there warring factions within Starbucks’ corporate headquarters with conservative French press aficionados (admittedly a contradiction) controlling the bagged coffee production, while liberal employees maintain their firm grasp on the Keurig machinery? Does the Christmas iconography on the Keurig box represent a “Rogue One”-level incursion behind enemy lines by the pro-Christmas forces within the company?

Perhaps our recent election and its promise to create a safe space in which we’re allowed to say “Merry Christmas” will resolve Starbucks’ discordant holiday themes, undoubtedly brought on by the past eight years of antireligious authoritarianism.

I suppose we’ll have to wait until November to find out.

*Please don’t sue me, Starbucks founders.

John Graeber is a writer in Chattanooga who has also contributed to Glide Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jbgraeber. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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