The Christmas Eve Flower

I have never been much of a holiday decorator, but in Guadalajara, Mexico, I had some help from nature. Every year, about December 15, a nondescript bush of bare sticks in my back yard would bloom with bright red flowers and keep its glowing appearance until the end of the holiday season.

The beautiful red flower, known in Mexico as the Flor de Nochebuena (Flower of Christmas Eve) has been a cherished symbol of the Nativity in Mexico since the time of the Spanish Conquest.

A popular legend tells of a poor little girl who was on her way to the village Church for Christmas Eve Mass.

As she shuffled along the path weeping, a beautiful person in a halo of light appeared to her. “Why are you crying?” the person asked.

“Because my family is very poor, and I don’t have a gift to take to Baby Jesus,” the little girl said.

The beautiful person, who was really an angel, pointed to some ugly sticks by the side of the road. “Pick up those sticks and take them to the Baby Jesus,” the angel said.

“How can I take something so plain and ugly to Jesus?” the little girl asked.

“Just pick them up and you will see,” said the angel.

The little girl picked them up, but nothing happened, and she continued along the road to the Church, puzzled by this strange event. When she got to the Church, she walked up to the Nativity Scene and put the sticks down beside the manger where the doll that represented Baby Jesus was lying.

As she laid them down, beautiful red flowers bloomed all over them. Those were the first Christmas Eve Flowers. 

Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced Euphorbia pulcherrima to the United States in the 1820s. Poinsett, a soldier, diplomat, and botanist, who served as special envoy to Mexico from 1822-23, saw them when he was visiting Taxco, south of Mexico City. He sent some samples back to his home in South Carolina, and people called them Poinsettias.

The brightly-colored parts of the plant are actually leaves. which may be bright red, pink, yellow, or white. The flower is the unobtrusive green or yellow center.

It has been a Christmas symbol in Mexico since the time of the earliest Christian converts. Since its introduction in the United States in the mid-1800s, it has become a beloved part of Christmas celebrations in the United States too.

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