Christmas Traditions

Poinsettias: A Real (and Fake) Symbol of the Holiday Season

Discover the history and significance of poinsettias, including their association with the holiday season and their real & artificial use in Christmas decorations.

by | March 27, 2023

Red Poinsettias and White Poinsettias Mixed Together For Colorful Holiday Decor This Christmas

Poinsettias are a staple of the holiday season, with their vibrant colors adding a festive touch to homes and businesses alike. But how did these beautiful plants become so closely associated with Christmas?

Let's take a closer look at the history of real and artificial poinsettias, as well as their colorful rise to holiday fame.

The History of Poinsettias

The story of poinsettias begins with Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico. While in Mexico in the early 1800s, Poinsett became enamored with a plant he saw growing wild in the countryside. The plant had bright red leaves that he found incredibly striking, and he decided to bring some back to his home in South Carolina.

Poinsett began cultivating the plants in his greenhouse and soon began sharing them with his friends and colleagues. The plant, which came to be known as the poinsettia, quickly became popular due to its vibrant color and ease of care. Over time, poinsettias became closely associated with the Christmas holiday, but it took a little nudge.

Red Poinsettias On Display For Christmas In A Holiday Decor Display

Poinsettias: A New Christmas Tradition

While poinsettias were a popular plant in the United States by the mid-1800s, it wasn't until the 20th century that they became closely associated with Christmas. This was largely due to the efforts of the Ecke family, who were major growers and distributors of poinsettias in the United States.

In the early 1900s, the Eckes began experimenting with different varieties of poinsettias, including a cultivar with particularly vibrant red leaves. They also began marketing the plants as a holiday decoration, suggesting that their bright red color made them a perfect complement to the traditional green of Christmas trees.

Over the years, the Ecke family continued to promote poinsettias as a holiday plant, and their efforts paid off. Today, poinsettias are one of the most popular holiday decorations in the United States, with millions of plants sold each year.

Poinsettias As A Symbol

While poinsettias are not directly tied to any particular religious tradition, they have come to be associated with the Christian celebration of Christmas. The bright red leaves of the poinsettia are said to symbolize the blood of Christ, while the green leaves represent eternal life.

Legend has it that a young girl in Mexico wanted to present a gift to the baby Jesus but had nothing to give. An angel then appeared to her and told her to gather weeds from the roadside and place them before the altar. When the girl did as she was instructed, the weeds transformed into beautiful red and green flowers - the first poinsettias.

Today, poinsettias are often used as a decorative symbol of Christmas to represent the holiday spirit of joy and giving. While many churches use poinsettias to decorate, especially around the alter, poinsettias have also been embraced as one of the most popular secular decorations during the holiday season. Building lobbies, office spaces, shopping centers and other public places often use decorate with poinsettias because they have come to symbolize the winter season without being exclusively related to any one holiday. Poinsettias are also a popular gift, often seen as a way to express love, gratitude, or holiday cheer regardless of any religious affiliation.

Real White Poinsettias On Display For Christmas In A Holiday Decor Display

The Rise Of White Poinsettias

While the classic red poinsettia remains the most popular variety, white poinsettias have become increasingly popular in recent years. White poinsettias have a more subtle, elegant appearance that makes them a popular choice for both home and business holiday decorations.

White poinsettias were first developed in the 1960s by Paul Ecke Jr., whose family was already a major player in the poinsettia industry. Ecke Jr. began experimenting with different varieties of poinsettias, including one with pale cream-colored leaves. He eventually developed a pure white poinsettia, which he dubbed the "Whitestar."

White poinsettias didn't become widely available until the 1990s, when they began appearing in garden centers and nurseries alongside the classic red variety. Today, white poinsettias are a popular choice for those looking for a more subtle, elegant holiday decoration.

Artificial Red Poinsettia On Display On A Christmas Tree - Holiday Decor

Artificial Poinsettias, Real Beauty

In recent years, artificial poinsettias have become an increasingly popular choice for holiday decorations. Artificial poinsettias offer several advantages over their live counterparts, including their ability to stay vibrant throughout the holiday season and their low maintenance requirements.

Artificial poinsettias come in a variety of colors and styles, including traditional red and white varieties as well as more unique colors like pink and gold. They can be made from a variety of materials, including silk, plastic, and paper, and can be found in a range of price points to fit any budget.

One of the biggest advantages of artificial poinsettias is their durability. Unlike live plants, artificial poinsettias won't wilt or droop, and they can be reused year after year. Additionally, they don't require any special care or attention, making them a great option for those with busy schedules or limited gardening experience.

While artificial poinsettias may not have the same natural beauty as live plants, they can still add a festive touch to any home or business. They can be used to decorate mantels, tables, and even outdoor spaces, and can be mixed and matched with other holiday decor for a unique and personalized look.

Poinsettias In Mexico

Of course, poinsettias aren't just popular in the United States. They're a beloved holiday plant in many countries around the world, including Mexico, where they have a long and storied history.

In Mexico, poinsettias are known as "Flores de Noche Buena," or "flowers of the holy night." Legend has it that a young girl named Pepita was walking to church on Christmas Eve when she realized she had nothing to offer to the baby Jesus. She gathered some weeds from the side of the road and placed them at the altar. Suddenly, the weeds transformed into beautiful red flowers, which we now know as poinsettias.

Today, poinsettias are still an important part of Christmas celebrations in Mexico, where they're used to decorate homes, churches, and public spaces. In fact, Mexico is one of the largest producers of poinsettias in the world, with many of the plants exported to other countries for use as holiday decorations.

Artificial Red Poinsettia and Artificial White Poinsettia On Display On A Christmas Tree - Holiday Decor

Add Poinsettias To Your Holiday Decor 

Poinsettias are a versatile and beautiful holiday decoration that can add a touch of festive cheer to any holiday display. They can be used as a standalone centerpiece, as a focal point to line the halls of a building lobby or as a simple accent to any holiday decorations.

You can add some extra flair to your Christmas tree by hanging poinsettias in between the branches, placing them in decorative pots at the base or even using them as a tree topper. Poinsettias also look great when combined with other traditional holiday decor such as evergreen branches, holly, and pinecones. Use them in wreaths, garlands, and other decorations to help create a cohesive holiday look.

With a little love and attention, poinsettias can bring joy and cheer to your holiday decor all season long. Their bright red (or white) leaves and easy care make them a perfect decoration for homes and businesses alike, and their long history and association with Christmas make them a beloved symbol of the holiday season and beyond.

So next time you see a poinsettia, take a moment to appreciate its beauty and remember the fascinating history behind this beloved holiday plant.

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