As far as Christmas flowers go, this one is likely the most well known. Look around your house this Christmas and if you have decorated at all, it is quite likely you will have some representation of poinsettia, whether it be a live poinsettia plant, a picture printed on a dinner napkin, or something in between. The bright red leaves seemingly have endeared themselves to our Christmas celebration.
The poinsettia itself been around for quite some time. Its natural habitat is in the southern part of Mexico where an individual plant can grow to upwards of 12 feet tall. The plant is part of the Euphorbiaceae family and is called Euphorbia pulcherrima. It is also called Cuitlaxochitl in the language of the Aztecs. The name poinsettia is an American name associated with the man who introduced the plant to North America in 1828. The poinsettia blooms in or near December annually and therefore makes it an excellent flower for the Christmas season. On average poinsettias generate over $250 million in sales each season in America alone.
The poinsettia was introduced to America by US Ambassador Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett. Mr. Poinsett was an avid botanist and when he came across the beautiful poinsettia while stationed in Mexico, he had cuttings sent back to his estate in South Carolina. From there he gave plants as gifts to his friends. One such friend owned a greenhouse and began distributing the flower at Christmas. It took some time for the “new” flower to catch on, however, by the early 1900s the poinsettia was well established as a staple during the Christmas season.
With over 100 varieties and colours available, there literately is a poinsettia for everyone.
The legend behind the poinsettia is that of a young child in Mexico on Christmas Eve. The child is usually presented as a little girl either by the name of Pepita or Maria. The legend tells of how the villagers gathered every Christmas Eve at the church. Everyone brought gifts to present to the Christ child. This year, however, the little girl did not have a gift to lay at the manger. She was very upset and refused to go to the church without a gift. In desperation she gathered some weeds from along the roadside and took them to lay at the manger. As it happens, when she laid her gift at the alter a miracle happened and the weeds turned a beautiful red and lit up the manger. Everyone was astonished and from there we have the Flores de Noche Buena (“Flowers of the Holy Night”).
Young or old, we too can each lay a gift at the manger in honour of the Christ Child. As the legend states, the gift matters least; it matters more that it was Given.
“for He came not to be served, but to serve.”