Are we allowed to choose a favorite Christmas symbol? It’s almost as tricky as picking a favorite general authority, scripture, or hymn. Nevertheless, I choose poinsettias. I love the vivid green and red colors that surround us each December. I even love poinsettias when they are white, pink, or marbled. Most of all, I love the legend of how we got poinsettias in the first place.
The flower came from Mexico, where it is called flor de Nochebuena—the Flower of the Holy Night. It was first brought to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1830. That’s how it got its English name, and since 1830 is the same year the Church was organized, I think it should have a little extra meaning for Latter-day Saints.
According to the legend, the first flor de Nochebuena appeared many years ago in a small Mexican village where people were preparing to celebrate Christmas. As the special day approached, the local priest asked a woman in his parish to weave a blanket to place beneath the statue of the baby Jesus at the church on Christmas Eve. The woman’s daughter, Luz, felt proud that her mother had been chosen for such an honor, but as Christmas drew nearer, Luz’s mother became gravely ill. Her father prepared to take his wife to the hospital far away in the big city. Luz was worried about her mother, but also about the blanket.
Discerning her thoughts, Luz’s father said, “The priest will have to understand.” But Luz worried that the priest would not understand, and neither would their friends and neighbors. Everyone was counting on her mother, and now they would have nothing for the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Luz determined to finish the weaving on her own. But the harder she tried, the worse the blanket became until eventually, it was nothing more than a tangled mess.
When Christmas Eve came, instead of going to the church, Luz hid behind her small house. An old woman saw her and approached. “What’s wrong, child?” the woman asked.
“I have nothing to take for the procession of the gifts,” Luz sobbed. “My mother was supposed to weave the blanket for the manger, but she became sick, and now there is nothing to place beneath the baby Jesus.”
The old woman pointed to the weeds growing nearby and said, “Take those. They will make a comfortable bed for the baby.”
Luz stared at the woman in disbelief. How could she take weeds to the Savior?
The old woman explained, “Any gift is beautiful when it is given with love.” She gathered an armful of weeds and held them out to Luz, who obediently took them and headed to the church.
When Luz entered the church, she heard the people gasp as they saw her carrying weeds instead of the expected blanket. Luz thought about turning to leave, but the priest smiled and beckoned for her to continue forward. She approached the manger and gently placed the weeds around the statue of baby Jesus. As she did, suddenly the green weeds were tipped with beautiful red leaves. They looked like flaming stars. The manger began to glow and shimmer as if lit by hundreds of candles. A hush fell over the congregation. The old woman was right. Any gift is beautiful when it is given with love. And—according to the legend—every Christmas since that day, the red stars have shone atop green branches in Mexico and all over the world.1
I love this story and have shared it many times through the years. The legend is a beautiful reminder of the love with which we should give gifts to each other, but also of the gift of grace the Savior lovingly gives to us. In the legend, the weeds were made beautiful, and that is exactly how Christ can change and transform us. “Be not conformed to this world,” Paul wrote, “but be ye transformed” (Romans 12:2). Because of grace—divine help—not only can we repent, be resurrected, and return to God, but we can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Sometimes we become so comfortable with how we are now we don’t recognize the need for change. We become content with being weeds and forget that God has something better in store for us. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “The Lord loves each of us too much to merely let us go on being what we now are, for He knows what we have the possibility to become.”2
Lead image from Wikimedia Commons
1. See Tomie dePaola, The Legend of the Poinsettia (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994).
2. “In Him All Things Hold Together,” BYU devotional, May 31, 1991, https://speeches.byu.edu.
This warm, conversational book will enhance your celebration of the Christmas season as you discover ways Christ began to fulfill His divine mission right from the moment of His humble birth. Whether a gift to a loved one or to yourself, this is the perfect read to curl up by the fire and embrace the Christmas spirit. Join with shepherds, wise men, angels, and other witnesses throughout the ages who have testified of the Christ in cradle, the Messiah in a manger.