The most popular flower of the Advent-Christmas season is the bright red poinsettia. First introduced to the United States in 1828 by Dr. Joel Robert Poinsett–our first foreign minister to Mexico–this brilliant tropical plant is called by the people of Mexico and Central America, the Flower of the Holy Night.
A charming Mexican legend explains its origin. Having finished running his daily errands, an orphan boy named Pedro sadly counted his centavos. There were hardly enough of them to buy his evening meal. “Come with us to the cathedral,” urged his friends. “No,” answered Pedro, “I have no money to buy a gift.”
“Take this,” suggested one of his practical friends, pointing to a weed by the side of the road. Hesitantly Pedro picked the stringy weed, climbed the steep hill to the church, and slowly made his way to the altar with its Mexican manger scene. Kneeling, he reverently laid his gift in front of the figure of the Christ Child. He soon became aware of the murmuring crowd. In wide-eyed amazement, he saw a dazzling and beautiful scarlet flower where only dried leaves had existed a moment before. His humble offering had been miraculously transformed.
The poinsettia has also been used to symbolize the more tragic side of Jesus’ coming. It reminds us of the blood of the male infants killed by Roman soldiers as King Herod sought to find the child that would threaten his throne. It also symbolizes the blood that Jesus would shed on the Cross.