Christmas is a time where we can learn many lessons about the act of giving. And the poinsettia flower is one that has its very own story to tell.
The plant is said to have first derived from a Mexican legend.
On Christmas Eve it was customary to bring fabulous presents to the altar for Jesus Christ. However for a poor young Mexican child, they felt distraught with nothing to give. The child goes to the roadside and begins to gather some humble weeds and gathers them into a posy.
Embarrassed with the gift, the child walks through the church and to the altar where they place the humble little bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene.
Suddenly the little posy of weeds transforms. It turns into brilliant star-shaped flowers made up of bright red and green. The congregation stands there having witnessed this with the child, believing they have witnessed a Christmas miracle.
This miracle of giving whatever you can was celebrated. The priests noticed the brilliant star red flowers, and declared the star-like shape to be a sign of the star of Bethlehem. And the bright red would symbolize the blood of Christ, the white for purity.
From this legend onward the flower was named the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’. However now it is more commonly known as the ‘Christmas Star ‘or ‘Christmas Flower’.
The flower is actually named botanically after a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett. Mister Poinsett was the first United States ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist, and he went on to introduce the flower to the U.S. in 1825.
Their original Aztec name for the flower is ‘cuetlaxochitl’. The Aztecs had many meanings for the flower, including again, purity and also motherhood. (Coincidentally, it ties into the Christmas nativity.) The leaves were seen as an ancient remedy and were prescribed to nursing mothers to help increase their milk production. They were also used to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers.
Although the poinsettia is known as a flower, it is actually a plant. The red tops are actually leaves, which have changed their color from their original green. This plant, if cared for well and planted after Christmas, can be grown into a large tree.
Poinsettia can be found flowering in natural abundance during the winter months in the southern areas of Mexico, particularly in an area known as ‘Taxco del Alarcon’.
With all its many meanings and stories the poinsettia really is a gift worth giving at Christmas time. And it undoubtedly brings instant good feeling and cheer.