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A Mexican-American Christmas Tale: From 'Good Night' Flower to Poinsettia

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December 21, 2015

The Nochebuena [literally, "Good Night"], "Christmas Eve" flower, or poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is native to Mexico. It can be found in tropical deciduous forests in moderate elevations along the Pacific coast of Mexico south to Guatemala and in some hot, seasonally dry forests in the interior of the country. It is a shrub that can grow to fifteen feet. With its dark green, serrated leaves and upper leaves of red, yellow or marbled with white, it has become one of the most used symbols of Christmas. In various parts of the world it is known as Christmas Star.

It has a pre-Hispanic heritage. The Náhuatl name is Cuetlaxochitl [kuet-la-sóch-itl], which means "flower that withers" or "leather flower". The Aztecs used the plant in rituals as a symbol of purity and new life for warriors, and they made offerings of it to the Sun to renew its strength.

In colonial times, the Spanish named the plant "Nochebuena,", the Spanish name for Christmas Eve, because of its appearance at Christmas time. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the plant became a symbol of the holidays.

The tradition of decorating homes with it comes from the U.S. In 1828, Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico, who was also a physician and amateur botanist, was impressed by its beauty and sent a few plants home.

But it was not until 1909, that the family of Albert Ecke began to cultivate the plant commercially in California, undertaking its controlled breeding and production. The family patented the flower under the name poinsettia. They produced plants of various colors and foliage, each of which they patented, thus controlling a virtual monopoly of the market into the 1990s.

Read the rest at Mexico Voices

Related: What Is Nochebuena? 5 Facts About the Hispanic Christmas Eve Tradition (IBTimes)

Photo: Notimex

Mexico Voices is a blogging endeavor aimed at raising the awareness of U.S. citizens regarding the destructive impact of the U.S. economic policy and the War on Drugs on Mexico — on its people, their economic and physical security and their human rights, on the nation’s dysfunctional justice system, and on the rule of law and Mexico’s fragile democracy. Visit the website at

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