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Typical Christmas arrangement with "la flor de nochebuena".
A typical flower Christmas arrangement with "la flor de nochebuena." Photo: BBC

The typical Christmas flower arrangement and its Indigenous origin

I bet you didn't know the traditional arrangement of "Christmas flowers" is of pre-Hispanic origin?

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We all know that Christmas tables are full of delicious food we prepare and enjoy as a family. But one element we also always have on our table and we rarely talk about is the typical floral arrangement we put at the center and which overflows with Christmas spirit in its colors.

Known as the “flor de Nochebuena" or "poinsettia," a name given it because it was introduced to Western horticulture by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the First Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States in Mexico, from 1825 to 1830. 

But the "poinsettia flower" is actually called cuetlaxochitl, which in Nahuatl means "flower that withers." The flower was considered a symbol of purity and was used to treat some skin conditions, using its leaves. It was cultivated in the gardens of Nezahualcoyotl and Moctezuma, and was used ornamentally by the Aztecs during the winter solstice festival.

But “Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve) was incorporated by the Franciscan friars of Taxco with the celebration of Christmas because its flowering season is around the solstice in Mexico — a date that coincides with Christmas.

This was one of the many ways foreign customs were imposed during colonization through cultural assimilation, using known significant references for the original population and giving them the meaning they wanted them to adopt.

Nowadays, the poinsettia is the most popular indoor plant to decorate the Christmas table, and it is considered the flower of friendship in some countries, such as Spain.

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