Legend of the Poinsettias
Pepita was a poor Mexican girl. As it was time for Christmas midnight mass, she was on her way to the village church with her cousin, Pedro. She met many people on the way who were also going to join the midnight Christmas celebrations. It was the local custom to bring presents to baby Jesus in the manger. Everybody except Pepita had gifts to offer to baby Jesus. Pepita wished she had a gift to give and she shared her disappointment with Pedro.
Then Pedro said, “It doesn’t matter what we give to baby Jesus. Baby Jesus will accept anything we give him with love.” His words gave her comfort and hope and she looked around to pick up some flowers. Unable to find any flowers, she picked up a bundle of road-side weeds and made it into a bouquet and carefully wrapped it in her handkerchief. She was happy the leaves had the shape of a star. Once she reached the church, she eagerly waited for the opportunity to offer her bouquet to baby Jesus.
When it was time to offer gifts after the solemn Mass, she approached the manger and lovingly placed the bouquet at the feet of Jesus.
Baby Jesus was immensely pleased with the gift of this poor girl and all of a sudden it miraculously turned into a bouquet of beautiful red flowers in the form of a star! There were people who saw this miracle and they were amazed. It was that night the poinsettia flower was born! Ever since this miracle happened, people began to use poinsettias for Christmas decorations.
However, the credit goes to Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador to Mexico, for bringing this beautiful plant to the United States and promoting it in other countries. Originally known as ‘cuetlaxochitl,’ Poinsett brought this shrub to the US in 1828. Later when historian William Prescott wrote a book called The Conquest of Mexico, he renamed the plant as ‘poinsettia’ to honor Poinsett who brought the flower to US and popularized it.
During Christmas season churches in the west are often decorated mostly with red and white poinsettias. Poinsettias in red and white are widely seen also in Christmas cards. We don’t know how much of the story about Pepita is true. But the beautiful poinsettias remind us that whenever we offer something to Jesus with love, he accepts it and transforms it into a really beautiful thing. These poinsettias also remind us that if we offer ourselves to Jesus with love, he will truly transform us into beautiful people cleansing us from all our sins and shortcomings in our life.
When poinsettias are used for Christmas decoration it is really a reminder of the importance of love in our gift-giving. But above all, it is a reminder of the great love of God in giving us his Son Jesus as a gift for the salvation of the whole world. As we read in the Bible, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
As the poinsettias are star-shaped, it is also a true reminder of the star of Bethlehem and the great message brought by the angel of the Lord who said to the shepherds keeping night watch over their flock, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). By having poinsettias for Christmas, we are also sharing our joy with everyone regardless of race, color and creed since the birth of Jesus the savior is good news for all the people in the world.
For the ancient Aztecs of Mexico, poinsettias were symbols of purity. Hence, poinsettias also remind us of the message of the angels who appeared that night singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2: 14). In other words, it is a reminder that we should become pure of heart to receive the gift of peace from God. Since poinsettias are widely used for Christmas, it has become a symbol of good cheer and happiness reminding us that Jesus was born in this world to give us the gifts of peace and joy by giving us the forgiveness for our sins.
The red color of the poinsettias has the symbolism of the sacrifice of crucifixion through which Jesus ultimately brought us the gifts of forgiveness for our sins. During this Christmas, as we are reminded of the great love of God for us in sending his Son as our Savior, let us remember to share our love with others so that it will bring joy to them like the caring love of Pepita brought great joy to baby Jesus through her gift of poinsettias. Have a blessed Christmas!