Saturday, December 11, 2010

12th December Poinsettia Day

Strictly speaking it is Poinsettia Day in America, but as it is close to Christmas and poinsettias are very common here at this time, it is a good time to think about their origin and connection to Christmas. In Mexico the plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena or, Flower of the Holy Night and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th, Dia de la Virgen. Use of the plant to celebrate Christmas in Mexico dates back to the 17th century. The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honor the Baby Jesus in a Christmas Procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia. But Mexico's relationship to the plant goes back even further. The Aztecs called the plant Cuitlaxochitl meaning "star flower" and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Montezuma, last of the Aztec king had Poinsettias delivered to him by caravan to what is now Mexico City. The legend of the young Mexican girl is the subject for at least two picture books that are ideal for sharing this story with young children. I especially like sharing the Tomie dePaola's The Legend of the Poinsettia, but Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin's The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story also does the task admirably.

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