I happened to be visiting the first-ever Starbucks in Seattle a few weeks ago when a mini-controversy erupted: There were no Christmas trees or snowflakes on this season\u2019s holiday Starbucks coffee cups. The horror! Facebook exploded with comments, as did Twitter. Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bloviated from the campaign trail that \u201cmaybe we should boycott Starbucks.\u201d Referring to the Starbucks in his own Trump Tower in New York, the candidate added, \u201cThat\u2019s the end of that lease.\u201d Conservative pundits immediately deemed the minimalist Starbucks cup design a \u201cwar on Christmas.\u201d For the life of me, I couldn\u2019t understand what the controversy was about. This was a corporate entity that had decided to use plain red coffee cups instead of ones festooned with holiday icons. Big deal. But the more I read into the story, the more I realized that Americans \u2014 and especially conservative Christian Americans \u2014 have a very parochial view of Christmas. For most people in this country, Christmas means a decorated tree, snow, and Christmas carols. Those are nice traditions, but none of them has anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. They\u2019re what modern American culture has turned Christmas into. The Christmas tree, for example, is hardly ancient: It was popularized in Germany in the 16th century. It wasn\u2019t adopted in the United States until the late 18th century \u2014 and even then, only among the upper classes. It\u2019s not at all a part of the story of Jesus\u2019 birth. Indeed, the Vatican itself didn\u2019t even put up a Christmas tree until 1982. Furthermore, in many cultures with longer Christian traditions than North America and Western Europe, the Christmas tree plays no role whatsoever. In Greece, the tradition favors a Christmas boat, a wooden structure around which Saint Basil the Great places presents for children. Other cultures use a large, decorated shoe. As a Greek-American with family roots in the sunny Mediterranean, I also never understood the significance of a \u201cwhite Christmas.\u201d Even as a kid I was aware that it rarely snowed in Bethlehem in December \u2014 or, frankly, in much of the world. So if you\u2019re dreaming of a white Christmas, dream on. And don\u2019t get upset if your coffee cup doesn\u2019t have snowflakes on it. Even many Christmas carols, including some of the most popular ones, have no connection to the birth of Jesus. Personally, I reject anything with a mention of reindeer, for example. I doubt any of those polar caribou were milling about the Middle Eastern manger where Jesus was born. And to be honest, we don\u2019t have any real idea of when Jesus was born anyway. The church didn\u2019t adopt the date of December 25 until the 4th century. Many scholars believe that date was chosen to placate Roman citizens who already were celebrating the \u201cFestival of the Unconquered Sun.\u201d So with so much confusion and tradition not based on fact, can we lighten up on Starbucks? OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA First Amendment award. OtherWords.org.