Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why do we put out poinsettias on Christmas? Do not get me wrong, poinsettias are a beautiful flower. Nonetheless, it just seems an odd plant to decorate our homes, offices, churches and everywhere else with. After all, poinsettias are native to Central America and most predominately found in southern Mexico.
As mentioned above, poinsettias are largely found in southern Mexico and bloom in the winter time. The botanical name of the flower is Euphorbia pulcherrima which means beautiful flower. The plant is also known as the Christmas Flower, Lobster plant and the Mexican Fire Plant. The flower grows dark green leaves and the bracts can be bright red but also pink, cream and a marbled color. The poinsettia typically grows between 2 and 10 feet if left out in the wild.
The ancient Aztecs who had inhabited this region, had many uses for this flower. The leaves were used to make red dye for their clothing as well as cosmetics. The Aztecs were also able to use the sap from the plant for medicinal purposes to help cure fevers. However the white sap is still used by us today, only we call it latex.
Poinsettias in the United States
In the year 1828, United States Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett visited the southern Mexico region and became fascinated with the plant. So much so, that Ambassador Poinsett had the plants shipped up to his plantation in South Carolina. What you need to understand, is that Joel Poinsett was an avid amateur botanist. At his plantation, Ambassador Poinsett grew the plants in his greenhouses and often sent them to this friends, family and botanical gardens around the area. When Joel Poinsett passed away in the year 1851, the plant was renamed the Poinsettia in his honor. Today, California leads the United States in poinsettia production producing roughly 80% of the plants. Another interesting fact about poinsettias is that December 12 in the United States is known as National Poinsettia Day.
Historical Connection of the Poinsettia and Christmas
Historically it is shown that in Mexico, Franciscan Friars in the 17th century began using poinsettias to decorate for Christmas. It is said that the Friars believed the leaves of the plant to be in the shape of the star that guided the shepherds to the stable where Jesus was born, the star of Bethlehem. It is also noted that the red color of the poinsettia leaves represents the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.
Folk Lore Connection of the Poinsettia and Christmas
There is one folk lore story that ties the poinsettia to Christmas and it goes as follows. In Mexico during the 16th century, there was poor little girl named Pepita. Pepita desperately wanted to bring a present up the church alter for the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Pedro, the little girl’s cousin told her, ‘I’m sure that even the smallest of gifts, given by someone who loves him, will make Jesus happy’.
However, the only gift that the little girl was able to find was a bunch of weeds that were present on the side of the road. So Pepita gathered them up and made them into a bouquet. Pepita walked up to the church alter, took her bouquet of weeds and laid them down at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into a beautiful bouquet of poinsettias with their bright and vibrant red color. All those who had seen this swore that they had seen a miracle. Ever since then, the poinsettia has been nicknamed the 'flower of the holy night'.
What Can We Take Home
I hate to say it folks but as you can see, there is no “ah-ha” moment in history to tie the poinsettia and Christmas together. However what we can gather is a beautiful folk lore story and a small piece of historical evidence.
As for my family and I, we love the poinsettia plant and always decorate our home with it at Christmas time. We love to tell our family and friends the folk lore story. However, we always emphasize to them that is because of Jesus’s love for us that we can celebrate Christmas in the first place.