One of the most delightful decorations at Christmas is the poinsettia. The usual color choice is the deep, vibrant red. However, there is a wide array of other colors, including pink, white, marbled, speckled and yellow. The colorful parts of the poinsettia, the bracts, are actually modified leaves. The poinsettia flower is small, green or yellow and situated in the middle of the bracts.
The poinsettia is named after Joel R. Poinsett, who served as the USA's first ambassador to Mexico, from 1825-1829. He saw this indigenous plant with large scarlet leaves encircling small, greenish yellow blossoms, which was the Mexican Christmas flower. He sent specimens back to the USA, where they flourished.
The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing.
One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today.