Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Poinsettia and other plants associated with Christmas

A charming story is told of  Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present to the Christ Child at Christmas Eve services. As Pepita walked slowly towards the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.
"I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes," said Pedro consolingly.
Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, enough for a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.

As she approached the altar, she remembered Pedro's kind words: "Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes." She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.

From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
Today, the common name for this plant is the poinsettia!

This story is told and beautifully illustrated in “The Legend of the Poinsettia” by Tomie de Paola.

In Spain the poinsettia is known as the Flor de Noche Buena, the flaming star-like blossoms an emblem of the star of Bethlehem.  

A few words about other plants associated with Christmas:

Plants traditionally used as Christmas decorations are mostly evergreens: first, because they were the only ones available in the winter season; second, because from ancient times the evergreens have been symbolic of eternal life.

A German legend says that the carnation bloomed on the night of Jesus’ birth.
German peasants of the 19th century told of the apple tree blooming on Christmas Eve.

Holly has been part of Christmas decorations in English churches since at least the fifteenth century. The holly tree was known as the Holy Tree and in old Cornwall was called Saint Mary’s Tree in respect for the Mother of God.   
It is said that one winter night, the holly miraculously grew leaves out of season in order to hide the Holy Family from Herod's soldiers. Since then, it has been an evergreen as a token of Christ's gratitude.

 A German legend says that the holly's berries used to be white but Christ's blood left them with a permanent deep red stain. This is told in the English song, The holly and the ivy. The melody is from an old French Carol.

The holly and the ivy
The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.3 Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire. 

by Vincenzina Krymow

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