I’ve always loved red and green poinsettia plants and assumed that it was their vibrant colors that had earned them a place in Christmas decorations. But there is more to the story …
Mexican legend has it that in the 16th century, a young peasant child named Maria was distraught one Christmas Eve, as she had no gift to lay before the altar of the baby Jesus in her local village church. As she walked to the chapel, saddened that her poverty prevented her from making even the smallest offering, her young cousin encouraged her that whatever she gave from her heart, no matter how humble, would be received by Jesus if it was offered in love.
Encouraged by this thought, Maria raced around the chapel, collecting weeds and lacing them together in a small bouquet. It wasn’t much, she knew, but she prayed that her gift would convey all that she carried in her heart, humble though it may be. As she walked to the altar to present her offering, she was scolded by some people who questioned the appropriateness of presenting a gift of weeds to the Holy Child.
Determined nonetheless to offer her little bouquet, Maria walked boldly to the front of the church, knelt, and laid her bouquet by the nativity scene. According to the legend, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and all the parishioners in attendance proclaimed that they had seen a Christmas miracle. Because of this, and the fact that it blooms around Christmas, the poinsettia became known in Mexico as “flor de Noche Buena,” or “Christmas Eve flower.”
Franciscan friars in Mexico began incorporating poinsettias into their Christmas celebrations during the 17th century. The shape of the flowers and leaves is a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the three magi to the place where Christ had been born. The red leaves symbolize the blood of Christ, and the green leaves the promise of everlasting life.
It’s refreshing to discover that there is more to this red and green plant than meets the eye—and a reminder to look a bit deeper for the meaning in other traditions surrounding Christmas. Let us always remember that God can transform even our humblest efforts into flaming flowers that proclaim His love for all humanity.