He got back in his car and drove on home whilst I continued on my way to the administration building of the school where we work to deliver the plant and to finish running errands before classes started for the day. On my way, I admired the beautiful red leaves and thought about how much cheer a simple red and green plant can bring to a dreary winter’s day.
A week later, I walked into the library and noticed the plant on the checkout counter—only now it had several holes in the leaves. “What happened to your beautiful plant?”
Mom laughed. “The kids keep playing with the leaves when they come in to the library. They rub the leaves and ask, ‘Is it for reals?’” She shrugged. “It’s holding up pretty well considering the abuse it’s taking.”
We shook our heads at the conundrum that our students present. So worldly-wise and weary at times, yet so innocent about things like real plants and the reason for Christmas.
But I wondered, how much did I actually know about the ubiquitous Christmas flower? Turns out, not much. The red part isn’t even a flower!
The poinsettia, a plant native to Mexico, has only been used as a symbol of Christmas since the late 1800s in the United States. But the plant has been part of Mexican Christmas traditions since the 1600s when legend tells of a poor young girl, Pepita, who felt sad because she had no gift to leave at the alter on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena).
An angel encourages her to make a bouquet from some dark green leaves she finds beside the road, and her cousin (or brother—depending on who tells the story), assures her that no matter how small or humble a gift she has to give, Jesus knows it comes from the heart of someone who loves him—and that’s all that matters.
When Pepita takes the bouquet to the altar, the top leaves turn a crimson red and the villagers all realize that they’ve seen a miracle. From that moment on, the plant is known as “La Flor de Noche Buena” (The Holy Night Flower).
The Poinsettia (the common name of the plant in the United States due to the fact that Joel Roberts Poinsett—and ambassador to Mexico from the US—brought the plant to the States in the 1820s) plant can grow up to 13 feet high (now THAT would be a conversation starter in any library). The red leaves surround the real ‘flower’ part of the plant. In order for the top leaves to turn red (or ‘bloom’), the plant needs 12-13 hours of complete darkness a day for two months with warmish nighttime temperatures.
Despite popular urban legends, the leaves and flowers won’t kill you or even make you very sick (unless you eat 500 of them). The Aztecs used the sap (latex) to treat fevers and the red leaves to create a dye.
This wealth of information made me think even more. We are more like the poinsettia in the library than we may realize. In a consumer-driven, one-upmanship, my-decorations-look-better-than-yours and I-made-more-Christmas-cookies-than-you-did sort of world, the way we celebrate Christmas matters.
Do our non-Christian friends see us stressed and harried and full of angst over creating the ‘perfect Christmas’? Do they shake their heads just a little as they hear us focus on what ‘Santa’ will bring our kids for Christmas? Do they nod in agreement as we bemoan the debt we’ll incur as we purchase gifts for everyone?
Celebrating Christmas should involve three simple things—lights, memories and actions—not stress, lies and debt.
Jesus is the light of the world. Do we worry more about hanging the lights than reflecting the Light?
Jesus came to humble parents in a dirty stable and lived among us for 33 years. Do we make up stories about a jolly guy in a red suit who miraculously makes and delivers toys to every boy and girl on Christmas Eve, or do we revisit the miracles and the memories of God among us during the Christmas season?
Above all, Jesus acted out his love for humanity by giving up his very life to pay our debts—ones incurred by OUR sins. Do we spend more time racking up debt than contemplating our debt and how Jesus paid the bill? Do we toss a few coins towards the bell ringer’s baskets and think we’ve done our part—when in reality Jesus wants our hearts to lead our hands and feet to take care of the less fortunate and minister to the unlovable? (tweet this)
We’re going to have troubles in this world—we might suffer sickness, tragedy, death, loss and despair. We may live on easy street or at least a pretty comfortable street—but in our comfort do we become complacent. Does our complacency turn us into a mere plastic plant—or are we willing to stay genuine. We might get hurt. But, are we for reals? (tweet this)
Inspire Me Monday Instructions
What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:
1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).
2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.
3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!
Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).
I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememonday. Join us! (tweet this)