I may have made it my goal to visit every Metro station at least once, but I did not need to make a special trip to the Silver Spring station, where I have spent not a small amount of time. Over the years, I’ve seen restaurants, stores, artworks, cultural offerings, and controversies come and go, while some icons and mainstays have been around as long as I can remember frequenting the area.
Silver Spring station itself is a Red Line station, MARC Train station, and future Purple Line station. (The area I think of as walkable from the Metro will also be served by two additional Purple Line stations: Woodside to the northwest and Silver Spring Library right by the core of Ellsworth Plaza to the east.) There are two exits to the station, north and south: the north exit practically dumping you in front of a Starbucks, and the south exit not too far from a shopping center with another Starbucks inside the Giant.
These two Starbucks locations (plus the one at Ellsworth Plaza) are possibly the least exciting or unique aspect of Silver Spring. Surely the adorable acorn-shaped gazebo, the Sensory Garden outside the Discovery Building, and the penguin murals, to name a few, are more interesting. Nevertheless, Starbucks offers not only hot drinks on these unbearably cold days, but also a curious history of objects in the form of their cups.
Starbucks sold merchandise for kids, including plastic cups, featuring a ladybug named Dot and a turtle named Dash in 2006 – the same year that downtown Silver Spring had four turtle sculptures on display as part of the University of Maryland-College Park’s Fear the Turtle sculpture project. In 2008, the year I traveled to Seattle and visited the first Starbucks, the coffee chain garnered controversy when they celebrated their 35th anniversary by temporarily bringing back the earlier, and more revealing, image of the siren on their cups.
In the last decade or so, the holiday cups at Starbucks and the downtown Silver Spring holiday displays have used some of the same imagery and objects: reindeer, sleds, music, Christmas trees. The ice skaters on a few of the holiday cups could be skating at the ice rink at Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the Starbucks holiday cups became an object of contention. The green and white logo against a solid red background was considered by some not to be Christmassy enough (in comparison to depictions from previous years, like a snowman, or a child and dog on a sled).
For what it’s worth, I don’t know of anyone I know saying they had an issue with the solid red cups. The conservative online magazine The Federalist published an article on November 10, 2015 titled “Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise.” But on the same day, CNN reported one notable exception in Donald Trump’s call for a boycott of Starbucks and proclamation that if elected president, “we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store.” (This dedication to compulsory recognition of Christmas contrasts with Trump’s history of erecting a “holiday tree” at Trump Tower and refusing to let elderly tenants put up a Christmas tree in the apartment building he was deliberately running into the ground.)
The red-cup-gate of 2015 did gain enough traction that evaluating the Christmas-ness of colors and images became a widespread matter for consideration, with the Washington Post calling in an expert to rate different symbols according to their religious meaning. Catholic University theology professor Chad Pecknold gave the highest rating to angels and Nativity scenes, and the lowest to snowmen.
In 2016, the same year that the centerpiece of the downtown Silver Spring holiday display was a tree made of umbrellas to represent “friendship, unity and inclusivity,” Starbucks released a green “unity” cup in November. There was another round of outcry; after a red holiday cup the previous year, the green cup was presumed to be that year’s holiday cup. This assumption was not unreasonable given that red and green are generally considered to be the two main Christmas colors in our society coupled with the fact that stores and restaurants tend to start the Christmas promotions and décor before the jack-o-lanterns of Halloween have begun to rot. However, the Starbucks holiday cups of 2016 were actually a variety of red-and-white cups designed by customers, adorned with designs like candy canes and strings of lights.
Fast forward to 2017, when Starbucks’s holiday cup was a coloring page in cup form. There has been some controversy reported on 2017’s cups due to the belief that a pair of disembodied hands are promoting “the gay agenda,” but it appears that unlike in 2015 when Donald Trump weighed in, the naysayers this year are just a couple of Twitter accounts with around 15 followers each.
Along with the hands, the cups portray birds (reminding me of the giant sculpture of the hand and birds outside Gateway to NOAA in Silver Spring) and stars (reminiscent of an exhibit at the Meditation Museum, formerly located near the Silver Spring Metro, that showed examples of light as a symbol of a variety of religions). The words on the sleeve, GIVE GOOD, along with the words hope, joy, love, and peace on cups of years past, also make me think of a place near the Silver Spring Metro.
Coloring is itself an activity not without controversy. I wrote previously about a seemingly fringe view that coloring mandalas “opens the door to demons” and is akin to coloring swastikas, but other detractors question whether coloring is really art or creativity, or mindfulness or meditation, as often claimed.
Wendy Woon, an educator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, argues that coloring books, for both children and adults, “limit the inherent ability to make marks of one’s own, to imagine and express individual possibilities and unique points of view.” MoMA’s gift shop does sell coloring books, but Woon would prefer that visitors explore the creative process through the museum’s ArtLab programs rather than color in the lines.
An article in Psychology Today proclaimed that coloring books are neither mindfulness nor creative art expression nor art therapy. The American Art Therapy Association, while acknowledging the potential benefits of coloring books for adults, also wants to be clear that coloring books on their own do not count as art therapy. If coloring is an example of mindfulness, it is subject to the question of whether mindfulness is selfish.
Personally, I am skeptical of mindfulness as a trend in inward-focused, self-help soundbites, but I do enjoy coloring as a relaxing activity. During this holiday season, I colored a Starbucks cup that I purchased near the Silver Spring Metro, using a silver colored pencil for the doves’ wings and the ring on one of the disembodied hands.
Silver Spring is on the Red Line.