Wednesday, December 09, 2009


This is an article of mine which was published in Italy Magazine today. I hope you like the poinsettia legends:


The poinsettia plant is as much a symbol of Christmas in Italy as the presepe [crib] that is found in almost every home. With their bright red colour and leaves in the form of star points, the plants are loved, carefully tended and are often kept from one year to the next. In Italy they are known as Stelle di Natale [Christmas stars] a name which the Italians adopted from Spanish missionaries in Mexico, where the plant originated. A group of Spanish Franciscan monks working in Mexico used the plants in a Christmas procession for the first time in the seventeenth century and after that the Mexicans started using them in Nativity scenes. It was one Joel Robert Poinsett, US Ambassador to Mexico from 1825 – 1829, who gave the plant its English name and took it to the United States. At Christmas 1899 poinsettia plants were placed in St Peter’s Basilica, drawing admiration from all who saw them.

Now Coldiretti, the Italian farming union, has issued some advice for the care of the 20 million “Christmas stars” that Italians are expected to buy this Christmas: The plants should be kept in light, well heated rooms and in winter can withstand direct sunlight. It is important to water them only when the soil surrounding them is completely dry. Coldiretti also urges consumers to buy plants grown in Italy, thus ensuring quality and helping the agricultural sector. The capital of the poinsettia in Italy is without doubt the Versilia [Tuscan Riviera] and in particular the town of Viareggio, where it is estimated that 5 million plants will be produced for sale this year. Small plants should cost around 2.50 euros, larger ones up to 30 euros and the largest around 70 – 80 euros.

There are two legends about the poinsettia that you may like to know about. Neither is Italian but – hey- it’s Christmas! The first and most famous concerns a little Mexican girl called Pepita or, in some versions, Lola, or maybe a boy called Pablo. Pepita, on her way to see the annual Nativity scene in her village, suddenly realised she had no offering to take with her that would show her love for the Baby Jesus and she started to cry. At that point, an angel spoke to her and advised her to gather some greens from the roadside, for Jesus would know that they were given with love. Pepita did so but the other children laughed at her gift. Then, all of a sudden, the greens turned into a beautiful, red poinsettia plant.

The other legend is more universal: When God created Nature, he asked all the flowers to give to the humans who chose and tended them the very best of themselves – beauty, love, harmony and wisdom. But there was one plant that nobody wanted, although it tried hard to be chosen, for it had tiny flowers and its leaves were too big. The plant became very sad and in December God saw this. He said, “I know you want to give men beauty, love, harmony and wisdom and, as men need these things, I am going to help you. I will give you my blood and put it on your leaves, which will turn deep red and make you the most beautiful flower on earth in this most important season for man.” And so the plant with the tiny flowers and big leaves became the lovely stella di Natale and ever since, it has brought men beauty, love, harmony and wisdom.

Take care of your “Christmas stars” this year.

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Laura said...

This was very interesting - makes me want to go get a "Christmas Star" for my home. Thanks

Rowena said...

I loved the legends! We haven't bought our stelle di Natale yet, so I'll be sure to add it to the shopping list!

Bev said...

I was in a daze when I bought my poinsettias the other day. When I was a kid, we had a large plant outside - which makes sense because we were in the tropics.

While at the nursery last week, I grabbed up several little plants with every intention to put them outside where the yard has turned to a drab brown and the color of death (to plants).

Then I remembered these lovely beauts don't take well at all to the cold, frost, snow and all those wonderful wintry things that happen up north. They are now "cuddled up" in the house...and we are all happy.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas while I can. These days are so busy I let blogging, visiting and other sedentary activities slip through the cracks.

Sally said...

A lovely piece Pat - ours are brightening up the drawing room as I write, with the sun finally streaming in through the windows and the dog following the patches of delicious warmth around the room.

Anonymous said...

When he was 12 my lovely aspie son spent a whole chunk of time rearing them for a Xmas sale at his school. The plants were the best I ever saw!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Laura. I hope you find a nice one. Thanks, Rowena. I have to get mine, too. Hi, Bev. I'm glad your stars are cuddled up and happy! Merry Christmas to you, too. Thanks, Sally. I can just imagine the scene, especially now that Simi and I have your lovely pics of Jedd. Hi, Mutley. Those must have been beautiful plants.

CherryPie said...

Thanks for all that interesting information it makes me want to go out and buy one!


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