Happy Rudolph Day! And Happy Memorial Day! 

This month’s Christmas symbol is the poinsettia, and, if you don’t mind stretching your imagination a bit, it actually can work as a reminder of those who fought and died for our freedom as well.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves can be thought of as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity. (from Christmas customs)

While considered by the ancient Aztecs to be symbols of purity, in today’s language of flowers, red, white or pink poinsettias, (the December birth flower), symbolize good cheer and success and are said to bring wishes of mirth and celebration. (from Teleflora)

The Christmas tradition of poinsettias is inspired by a Mexican folk tale about a poor little girl called Pepita who had no present for the baby Jesus at a Christmas Eve service. Her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up by suggesting that even the smallest gift would be enough, so Pepita picked up some weeds growing near the church. When she stepped up to the altar and placed the arrangement on it, they suddenly transformed into the bright red flowers we know today. For this reason, in Spanish speaking countries, Poinsettia is known as “Flores de Noche Buena” or flowers of the holy night. (Source)

Poinsettias get their American name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought them to the states from Mexico in the early 1800s. They didn’t become traditional holiday decorations until the entrepreneurial Ecke family started promoting them a century later. Paul Ecke Jr. sent free poinsettia plants to TV studios across the country, including “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope’s holiday specials. Eventually, the trend caught on, and now poinsettias are among the most popular plants sold in the United States. Congress even declared December 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death, to be National Poinsettia Day.  (from Reader’s Digest)

Native to Mexico, the poinsettia, or Euphorbia pulcherrima (Latin for beautiful) doesn’t like cold. If you live in the Coastal and Tropical South (USDA Zones 9-11), you can plant it outside and it will grow into a large shrub or small tree covered with blooms each winter. If you live farther north than that, your poinsettia will freeze into mush. (from Southern Living) Apparently, it’s a big pain, but if you want to try keeping your plants indoors from year to year, here are the steps you need to take. Most people decide it’s worth it to just buy a new plant in December; however, one of my childhood memories is of the row of poinsettias planted outside of our dining room window, and how they grew over the pathway from the front to the back of our house. I can’t really remember if they “flowered” regularly, but I do know they grew!

Of course, if you don’t want to grow poinsettias, you can always applique them to a sweatshirt, or do some sort of other craft with them. If you start now, you’ll have plenty of time to complete your project before December.