Christmas in México—Poinsettias

poinsetta

Poinsettia gone wild!

Everyone knows that the poinsettia was adopted in the United States as a Christmas decoration when Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.  So since this weed was so highly esteemed by the neighbors to the north, the Mexican too adopted this plant as a holy Christian symbol. 

However, it was valued prior to Christianity reached the shores of México.  The Poinsettia, or Cuitlaxochitl as it was known in Nahuatl, was used by the pre-Hispanic indigenous people to make clothing dyes.  It was also thought to host the souls of fallen warriors.

Then, during the 17th Century, a group of Franciscan priests settled near Taxco and began to use the poinsettia as decoration in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre and most likely, in their Christmas celebrations.

A relatively modern story evolved to provide rational for its Christmas use.  There are several versions of this story about, and here is one more.

Once upon a time, a young boy was going to see the image of the Christ child at the altar in the local iglesia (church) on Christmas Eve.  He felt bad that he wasn’t able to bring any gifts to lay at its feet.  As he was walking, he saw a green leafy plant by the side of the road.   Having nothing else to bring, he picked the plant and went inside the church.  When he lay the plant by the image of the baby Jésus, it miraculously changed color.  It’s leaves turned bright red.   He knew his gift from the heart had been well received in heaven. From this day forth, this plant has been called La Flor de la Nochebuena.

Other versions follow the same story line, but the gift is given by a little girl. (The Legend of the Poinsettia)

Some versions of this story have the boy actually giving the plant to the baby Jésus like the Little Drummer Boy rather than visiting a local altar, but that just seems too hokey.  This plant is not native to Bethlehem and how a little Mexican indigenous boy found his way to Israel is beyond explanation, so the stories don’t even try.

However it came about, the NocheBuena is now a firmly entrenched emblem of Christmas in México.
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Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Mexican Holidays, Native fauna and flora

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