It’s been 20 years since special Starbucks cups first began to grace our holiday season. It’s a ritual for many, that’s as beloved as trimming the tree or baking sugar cookies.

The first Starbucks holiday cups made their debut in 1997, though it would be a miracle to find one today. Few were saved and the digital design files were lost in an earthquake in 2001. Even searching online poses few results, as the cups came before the ubiquitous time of selfies and cell phone cameras.

One company designer, Sandy Nelson, having had the honor of designing the first cup, stashed away a full set of subsequent cups.

“It was August, and I had just started with the company,” Nelson said. “We were working on holiday creative for the season to come. We had what felt like a hundred cup designs pinned up on the wall. Then Howard [Schultz] came by, looked at all of them, and picked my design. I couldn’t believe mine was chosen.”

But the first cup wasn’t in the classic red motif most Starbucks coffee customers are familiar with. It was more of a magenta with sapphire, emerald and amethyst alternatives.

It would be two more years before red would become the color of choice.

Over the next two decades, Starbucks holiday cups became emblematic of the holiday with design varying from year to year from coffee beans to snowflakes, simple designs and intricate drawings.

This year the cups feature a a print that invites the consumer to add color.

“We’re inviting everyone to color in the holidays in a way that’s meaningful to them,” said Leanne Fremar, executive creative director for Starbucks.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 1997 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The first holiday cup had a hand-drawn design with swirls and tiny coffee beans.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 1998 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The second year brought a burgundy cup with swirling snowflakes.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 1999 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Red makes its first appearance on the holiday cup with whimsical line-drawings of snowflakes, stocking and other winter items.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2000 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

A creatively drawn scene depots a village of coffee and tea pots set against a starry sky.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2001 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

This cup was designed to look like a gift, trimmed with green and red ribbons. This is the also the first year for White Chocolate Mochas and Starbucks cards.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2002 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

White illustrations are set against the classic red background.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2003 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Hidden shadows dance with shimmering stars and snowflakes.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2004 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The Starbucks logo turns into an evergreen wreath.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2005 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

“It only happens once a year” reminds consumers of the season while a string of holiday lights adorn the top.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2006 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Winter white silhouettes make a traditional winter scene.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2007 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The cup’s 10th anniversary celebrated with a snowy winter scene.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2008 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

A cozy patten set behind winter imagery.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2009 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Paper ornaments inscribed with the words “joy, hope, love, light and peace” were what customers drank from during 2009, the first year the Caramel Brulée Latte was offered.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2010 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

A palate of red and grey give the cup a more modern look.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2011 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Big characters came to life in 2011.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2012 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Bold-sized holiday characters came in for a close-up.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2013 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Ornaments get decorated with red and gold touches in 2013.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2014 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

“Let there be light” was the theme for the seasonal cups.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2015 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The most minimalistic design of them all, 2015 say a bright poppy color morph into a darker cranberry color.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2016 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Starbucks featured customer-created holiday cups with 13 different designs from six countries.


Starbucks holiday cups
Starbucks 2017 holiday cup. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The 20th anniversary year featured the first white cup for the company, but it allows customers to color in their own vision of the holidays.

Shop coffee at — and always free shipping. 




Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.