Poinsettias are seen all over during the Christmas season. From people’s homes to churches, schools, and businesses.
They are a staple decoration that’s easy to find and inexpensive. They provide a beautiful, living decoration that blends into any decor style.
Displaying poinsettias at Christmas first started in Mexico during the 16th century. The legends tell of a young girl who gathered weeds to place at the church alter in honor of Jesus’ birthday.
She was too poor to purchase anything else, and it’s said that an angel had inspired this young girl to gather the plants.
Beautiful, crimson flowers sprouted from these otherwise ordinary weeds the girl picked and became what we know now as poinsettias.
Depending on where you read of this history, you will find some minor variations to this legend.
For instance, some say it was her cousin, not an angel, who influenced her to pick the weeds.
Friars in Mexico from the 17th century began including these plants in Christmas celebrations.
The belief is that the star-shaped pattern of the leaf symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, and the crimson color represents the blood of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Some say the white flowers represent the purity of Christ.
Before the religious symbolic beginnings of the poinsettia, the Aztecs used it for hundreds of years prior.
To them, the plant was a symbol of purity. They used the red leaves to make dye, and the milky substance found within for medicinal purposes to treat fevers.
This milky substance, interestingly enough, is basically latex.
Modern Poinsettia Display
Today, poinsettias are often displayed predominantly in churches but are also seen in many other places.
A large number of people do not even associate the poinsettia with its religious history, but rather see it as a symbol of winter.
Some yet just refer to it as simply an iconic plant to display around Christmas.
What’s in a Name
In the United States, the poinsettia is very well-known and easily recognizable. The U.S. name it such from Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced this plant to the U.S.
He was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, and also a botanist and physician.
In modern times, the poinsettia is called Flor de Nochebuena in Mexico and Guatemala. This name means Flower of the Holy Night.
In Spain, they call it Flor de Pascua, or simply Pascua, which means Easter flower.
Although the legends of poinsettias at Christmas refer to the vibrant, red leaves, today it is often found in other color variations as well, such as:
- Pink (from dark to light)
- Speckled or marbled
There are over 100 varieties of the poinsettia found globally.
December 12th is recognized as Poinsettia Day in the United States.
This is not for religious reasons but actually marks the death of its modern-day name sake Joel Roberts Poinsett, who died on that day in 1851.
In Mexico, they also celebrate Poinsettia Day on December 12, but it is for the Dia de la Virgen.
This day honors the Lady of Guadalupe, who is a Catholic Saint.
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Main Points About Poinsettias at Christmas
- The Poinsettias were never associated with Christmas. They go as far back as the 14th century in Mexico.
- The plant was used for medicinal purposes. It was a highly prized plant in the Aztec culture.
- On the 17th it was also established as a decorative plant. In Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico, some monks began to use it in their Nativity processions.
- When Poinsett – the US diplomat to Mexico – brought Poinsettias back to the US, he began sharing the plant among his friends at Christmas time.
- The Poinsettias sure delights and inspires. Sometimes it is thought that is shaped like the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to baby Jesus.
The name came from a Joel Roberts Poinsett, who imported some seeds from this flower, originally growing in Mexico, to the USA.
There are two stories about how it was connected to Christmas – one of a poor girl who had nothing else to give to Baby Jesus but some seeds, another one is that the shape of the flower is a symbol of the star in Bethlehem.
In Scandinavian languages, it’s even called ”Christmas Star”.
Word Cloud for Poinsettias at Christmas
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Poinsettias at Christmas. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.