Why are poinsettias given as gifts at Christmas? This tradition has its roots set in a story that takes place in Mexico. There are several versions of this legend, but the message is the same.
Long ago, in a small village in Mexico lived a young girl named Pepita and her older brother Pablo. Like all children, Pepita and Pablo loved Christmas. The village came alive with festivities and everyone participated in the decorating of the church and the piazza in front of it. Even the children made gifts to bring to the church on Christmas Eve to give to the Baby Jesus.
Pepita wanted to make something very special to bring to the Baby Jesus. She had helped her mother weave blankets, so she thought she would make a wonderful colorful blanket. She worked at the loom for hours, but Pepita was too inexperienced to weave a blanket by herself and ended up with a tangled mess of yarn. She was heartbroken. She wanted so much to march in the procession to the church with the other children, but she didn’t have a gift to give to the Christ Child.
On Christmas Eve, the villagers began to gather in the piazza. Holding lit candles, they started to sing and move in a procession to the church. Hiding in the shadows, Pepita watched as the other children started to parade past her with their gifts for the Baby Jesus.
“What are you doing here in the shadows, Pepita? Why aren’t you with the other children?” her brother Pablo asked coming over to her.
“I don’t have a gift for the Baby Jesus,” Pepita replied her eyes welling up with tears. “I tried to make a beautiful blanket, but it was all tangled.”
Pablo hugged her and said, “Pepita, don’t you know that the Baby Jesus will love whatever you give Him because it comes from your heart. Love is what makes every gift special.”
Pepita looked around and saw some tall weeds. Quickly, she fashioned a bouquet and covered it with her cloak. She ran swiftly into the church. The children were in front of the nativity scene placing their gifts around the figure of Baby Jesus. Suddenly embarrassed that she had picked a bunch of weeds, she stopped in the middle of the aisle.
All eyes turned to her.
“What is Pepita’s gift? What does she have under her cloak?” the other children whispered.
What should she do? Should she run out? Should she go forward? Starting to panic, she looked at all the people watching her. Then, her eyes found her brother. With a smile, he simply nodded. Feeling encouraged, Pepita moved forward to the nativity scene stopping to kneel in front of the Baby Jesus. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, she said a soft prayer and opened her cloak to let the weeds tumble out.
Voices gasped, “Look! Look at those glorious flowers!” Startled, Pepita opened her eyes. She was stunned. The bunch of weeds had turned into a bouquet of brilliant red star-shaped flowers. All who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes. And outside, too, every weed now bore a bright red star.
Pepita’s love had created a miracle. 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.