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The heART of Ritual

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Cuetlaxochitl, Poinsettia: a Gift of Rebirth and Light from Mexico


Along with tamales, buñuelos, and champurrado, many of us bring the beauty of the elegant Flor de Noche Buena into our homes signals the beginning of the holiday season. What many people don’t know is its origins and meaning....


The red flame-like cuetlaxochitl (Nahuatl) blooms during the winter solstice and signals the start of a new cycle of life. Its name translates into "mortal flower that perishes and withers like all that is pure."


Europeans first saw the cuetlaxochitl on December 24, 1825, when Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett (first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, 1825-1829) paid a visit to a local Taxco church and noticed that the Franciscan monks had decorated the nativity scene with beautiful and exotic red flowers. Since then it started being known as the Flower of Christmas Eve, La Flor de Noche Buena. Dr. Poinsett later brought the cueitlaxochitl to the United States and raised it in his greenhouses in Charleston, South Carolina. It was (re) named poinsettia in his honor in 1836, in the U.S. But it has a much earlier history….


The cuetlaxochitl was honored as a divine gift by the Old Ones, an acknowledgement that it had been given to humanity to help re-birth the light on Mother Earth. Temples were adorned with this elegant and dignified plant as its flowering coincided with the date of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, Left-Handed Hummingbird, representative of the sacred power related to the sun, whose red leaves symbolized the sacred energy of the life force of blood. It also represented the blood of warriors killed in battle and heralded the return of those warriors to this world as hummingbirds, returning to release the honey (light) of flowers…flowers being one of the important spiritual symbols of the Soul.


According to oral tradition there is an even earlier story. It is said that the flower was initially white in color but that after the killing of the people of Taxco by the Mexika (pre-contact), the leaves of the cuetlaxochitl, at their next blooming, turned red.


Traditional knowledge has many medicinal uses for the cuextlaxochitl: as a tea it increases the amount of breast milk of nursing mothers; combined with other plants it is an important and well-guarded woman's medicine, the milky sap of the plant is used to prepare poultices to treat skin diseases, and a red dye made from the leaves is used to color textiles and crafts. (It is important to note that as with many medicinal plants if it is not used correctly it can be poisonous to humans as well as toxic to some animals.)


In the seventeenth century, botanist Juan Balme described the beautiful Cuetlaxochtil: "The flower is tiny, like the bougainvillea, but is surrounded by bracts that appear to shield or shields to protect it, with big green leaves turning red are to those of blood, of which the Indians obtained by grinding, cooking and filtration, especially heated dye, which stained purple amaranth and cotton fibers. The aqueous juice of the plant, like milk, drew healing substances in preparations for fever cleverly designed.”

May its beauty bring light and peace to your heart and to your home,

Grace Alvarez Sesma


A great piece on this topic (in Spanish) by my friends at Delicias Prehispánicas y Contemporáneas. Tlazocahmati also to Proyecto Anahuac.

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