Friday, 7 December 2012


Image: Wikimedia Commons

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 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.


Find words in the text that have a similar meaning to the ones below:

1.  cared for 
2.  came from
3.  attracting
4.  tolerate
5.  an unverified, traditional story
6.  yearly
7.  very small
8.  good judgement  

Highlight the space below to see the answers:

1. tended  2. originated  3. drawing  4. withstand  5. legend  6. annual  7. tiny  8. wisdom

The above article by Pat first appeared in Italy Magazine UK in 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment