The Legend of The Christmas Poinsettia: Holiday Entertaining Knowledge


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After the stockings are hung and the last ribbon is tied, you can sit back and admire your handiwork, and revel in all the joy you’ll be sharing with those you love most. Everyone has a favorite part of the holidays: there’s the part where you get to spend time with your family, indulge in decadent treats and delicious feasts, (hopefully) be delighted by the wonderful presents you give and receive, and of course the decorations.

While we know that the decorations we hold near and dear are an amalgamation of Christian, Pagan, and regional traditions, most of us don’t dig much deeper than “that looks nice” when it comes to Christmas décor. This year, challenge yourself to explore more than just the amount of food your belly can hold, and learn the enchanting history of how everyone’s favorite Christmas flower arrangement came to be. You can impart your new knowledge on your friends and family and teach them something new.

A Humble Journey Across Borders

There is, perhaps, no plant as easily recognizable as a “holiday” plant than the pointed plumes of the poinsettia. In fact, no other plant is as widely purchased as the poinsettia over the holiday season. Unlike many other U.S.-centric traditions, the poinsettia’s fame is also prevalent worldwide.

Poinsettias originated, and were most naturally prevalent in regions of Mexico and South America. The U.S.’s first ever ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, saw the plant, found it gorgeous, and brought it back to raise in his greenhouses in Charleston, South Carolina. Realizing that no such plants grew naturally in the U.S., it took 20 years and many horticulturists to ready the plant to be sold to the public. The Poinsettia’s Latin name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “the most beautiful Euphirbia.”

In addition to gracing our soil with some of the most beautiful petals around, Dr. Poinsett was also the founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, which we now know as the Smithsonian. There are many varieties of Poinsettia, from white to pink to speckled.

A Legend Dipped in Tradition

There are accounts of the Aztecs using Poinsettias (called Cuexlactochitle) as a fever reducer and to make dyes (and it’s much less toxic than many of the dyes and OTC medicines we use today), however its true Christmas roots come from a legend that took place in Mexico sometime in the 16th century.

In the legend, a young, enthusiastic girl was eager to buy her family gifts for Christmas. The girl was too poor to afford anything, so she prayed for guidance. Sometime along the way, an angel appeared and guided her to pick weeds from the side of the road and place them on the altar of the village church. From the weeds grew brilliant red blossoms that sprouted and the altar- and from there a Christmas classic was born!

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