The real meaning behind this iconic Christmas flower


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Plants and flowers have the power to evoke specific memories and associations. A red rose is a near-universal symbol of romantic love. A daffodil is similarly well-known as the flower of springtime and new beginnings.


But what about poinsettias? Have you ever wondered why they’ve become the most popular ornamental flower associated with the Christmas season? Well, you’ve come to the right place.


The poinsettia represents holiday cheer and joy, regardless of their color. This article will further examine some of the meanings people attach to the poinsettia and explain how it became a Christmastime staple.


The History of the Poinsettia

Indigenous people in Central America were using the Euphorbia pulcherrima long before the name poinsettia was ever attached to these radiant flowers. The Aztecs called the plant cuetlaxochitl (meaning “brilliant flower”) and used it for a number of different purposes. The flower was prized by Aztec leaders, with Montezuma reportedly having caravans of the plant brought to present-day Mexico City (where the poinsettia did not grow naturally due to the elevation). The Aztecs derived medicines from the plant’s sap and employed its leaves and flowers in the production of colorful dyes. Mayans, too, used these plants for both decorative and medicinal purposes.


Native to Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the plant was introduced to the United States in 1825 by a man named Joel Roberts Poinsett (yes, you can see where this is going). At the time, Poinsett was the US ambassador to Mexico and something of an amateur botanist. Struck by the beauty of the Euphorbia pulcherrima, he arranged for specimens of the plant to be sent to his home in South Carolina. Poinsett cultivated the plants and put them on display at the first public flower show ever held in the United States, in Philadelphia, in June 1829. They were an immediate hit, and Pointsett’s propagation of the plant ultimately led to him becoming the namesake of what we now call the poinsettia.


Connections to Christmas

Poinsettias naturally bloom as the days get shorter, and in the wild, this means that the plant comes into full bloom in December. This timing, along with the influence of Christian missionaries, made for a natural association with the Christmas season. In the 17th century, Franciscan missionaries in Mexico frequently used poinsettias to decorate nativity scenes and incorporated the plant into the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre nativity processions.


The connection between Christmas and poinsettias was further solidified by the Mexican folk tale of a young girl named Pepita. According to legend, Pepita could not afford an offering for her Christmas Eve church service, so she gathered some weeds on her way to church and fashioned them into a bouquet. When she placed the bouquet at the altar, the weeds were miraculously transformed into colorful poinsettias. Since that time, the plant has been known in Mexico as “la flor de Nochebuena,” meaning the “Christmas Eve flower.”


Religious Associations

The colors red and green have long been associated with Christmas, a connection passed down from pagan mid-winter festivals. In pagan celebrations, winter evergreens with red berries, such as holly, symbolized fertility and rebirth. When Christians borrowed some of the pagans’ symbols for their own winter celebrations, the colors red and green maintained their importance. Obviously, this made the poinsettia a natural fit for Christmas decorating.


In addition to the color of the poinsettia, their shape also contributes to their meaning in connection to Christmas. The shape of their red leaves resembles a star, and for many Christians, the poinsettia flower came to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Thanks to the story of Pepita, poinsettias also have an association with miracles — yet another connection to the Christmas season and the miracle of the birth of Jesus.


Meanings Around the World

The poinsettia is associated with goodwill and holiday cheer in many countries around the world, particularly in Mexico, the United States, and much of Europe. Poinsettias are also called the Christmas plant or Christmas flower in Colombia, France, and even in the predominantly Buddhist country of Thailand.


However, not every culture associates the poinsettia with Christmas. In Spain and Cuba, the poinsettia plant is called the flor de Pascua, or the “flower of Easter.” In Turkey, poinsettias were the favorite flower of the founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk. They are known in that country as “Ataturk’s Flower” and now serve as a symbol of Turkish patriotism.


The Business of Poinsettias

No story of the connections between poinsettias and the festive season would be complete without a mention of the Ecke family. The Eckes began growing poinsettias on the family ranch in Southern California in the 1920s, eventually perfecting a technique that produced a sturdy potted plant, much easier to package and sell than the wild version. In the 1960s, inspired by their proximity to Hollywood, the family came up with a stroke of marketing genius, gifting free poinsettias to television networks for display on various live shows and holiday specials. The strategy worked, and poinsettia cultivation turned into a big business. Even today, the Eckes remain the largest poinsettia producer in the world.


Official Recognition

In 2002, the U.S. Congress designated December 12 as National Poinsettia Day. The date was chosen, in part, to honor Joel Roberts Poinsett — he passed away on December 12, 1851, after a political career that saw him elected to Congress and eventually named as secretary of war under President Martin Van Buren.


The date was also chosen to coincide with the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a national holiday in Mexico, the native home to the Euphorbia pulcherrima. In addition to having their own dedicated day, poinsettias are considered the birth flower for the month of December.


Now that you know why poinsettias have become such a popular symbol of the holiday season, all the more reason for you to use them to enliven your festive decor this December. Urban Stems offers several options. The Frosted is a 6” poinsettia in a white birch pot that will inspire your holiday guests to sing your praises. The Poinsettia is a smaller plant but a perfect accent piece for a side or end table.

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The perfect flowers to give as holiday gifts


It’s that time of year again—time to start thinking about what Christmas flowers to gift to your holiday host. Whether you’re looking for something traditional or something a little more unique (we’re looking at you orchids), there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are 15 of the best Christmas flowers to gift in 2022, and lucky you, we offer a majority of the bunch.




These classic Christmas flowers are known for their bright red and green foliage and are a staple in many holiday decorations. They come in a range of color like red, white, and pink and look just as pretty on a patio as they do near a fireplace. It’s a Christmas staple that anyone would be happy to receive as a gift.


Related:  Easy, delicious breakfast recipes to make this Christmas morning




Orchids make a great Christmas gift for a few reasons. First, they are exotic and beautiful, and can add a touch of luxury to any bouquet. Second, they come in a wide range of colors, from classic whites and reds to more unique shades like purple and yellow, making them a versatile choice for any recipient. Third, orchids are long-lasting, so they can continue to bring joy and beauty long after the holiday season has ended.





These affordable and long-lasting flowers come in a range of holiday-appropriate reds, whites, and pinks. The best kind of gift for Christmas a mixed bouquet filled with carnations and other festive flowers, like in our Nutcracker bouquet. Carnations can make any bouquet look full and vibrant – especially during the holidays.


Roses make a great Christmas flower for a few reasons. First, they are classic and elegant, and can add a touch of sophistication to any bouquet. Second, they come in a wide range of colors, from traditional reds and whites to more unique shades like black and blue, making them a versatile choice for any recipient. Third, roses are associated with love and romance, making them a perfect gift for a significant other or loved one. Fourth, roses are long-lasting, so they can continue to bring joy and beauty long after the holiday season has ended. Overall, roses are a great choice for a Christmas flower because of their elegance, versatility, and romantic associations.





Anemones are associated with good luck and protection, making them a thoughtful and symbolic gift for the holiday season. We love seeing anemones in a mixed Christmas bouquet or as a single-stem arrangement, like in The Rockette.


Whoever thought tulips were meant for the springtime haven’t met these winter beauties. Add a pop of color to your bouquet with cheerful tulips in shades of red, pink, and white. They are an unexpected holiday look and here’s a fun fact for your recipient: fresh-cut tulips continue to grow in the vase — gaining an inch or more in height!


You can’t go wrong with gifting peonies for Christmas. Perhaps everyone’s favorite flower, these fluffy stems unfurl in water, meaning it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Pick from shades of white or pink and enjoy that sweet aromatic smell these beauties bring.



Grazziela Bursuc/iStock


Dried flowers make beautiful Christmas gifts. They can last up to a year and thanks to our selection, come in an array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Every one of our dried bouquets also includes a vase.


Tegan Thorneycroft / iStock


These long-lasting flowers come in a range of Christmas-y reds, whites, and greens..


Sending lilies to a friend for Christmas is a great idea for a few reasons. First, lilies are beautiful and elegant, and can add a touch of sophistication to any bouquet. Second, they come in a range of colors, including white, red, and gold, which are perfect for the holiday season. Third, lilies are associated with purity and virtue, making them a thoughtful and symbolic gift for a friend. Fourth, lilies are long-lasting, so they can continue to bring joy and beauty long after the holiday season has ended. Overall, lilies are a great choice for a Christmas flower because of their beauty, symbolism, and lasting power.


There’s just something about festive berries during this time of year. They’re perfect for decorating your entryway and adding a touch of the holiday spirit to your space. You could just as easily use it to liven up your tablescape or even add a pop of feel-good beauty to your desktop at home or the office. Who can resist a bundle of bright red winter berries?


When you add a gorgeous wreath to an equally gorgeous door, you get nothing but perfection. That’s what a colorful flower-mix wreath offers. Bright colors and little greenery make colorful mix wreaths the perfect decoration to add cheer to a room. To inspire your creativity, craft a colorful wreath using yellow daisies with pink accents, purple and blue flowers, delicate ferns, and twining ivy, or check out this wreath idea.




Protea flowers are the national flower of South Africa, and are known for their unique and exotic appearance. They are part of the Proteaceae family, which includes over 1,500 species of flowering plants.Protea flowers are also popular in the dried flower industry, as they retain their color and shape well when dried. Overall, protea flowers are known for their unique beauty and are a popular choice for special occasions.


These delicate flowers are easy to grow indoors, making them a great choice for the gardener in your life.


While these flowers may be closely associated with a summertime gift, these fluffy stems also make great Christmas flowers. They come in an array of colors from antique green to light blue.


These stunning flowers come in a range of vibrant reds and pinks, and are sure to impress.

Whether you’re looking for a beautiful Christmas Flowers to wow the holiday host or simply looking for Christmas flowers to gift yourself, you are sure to find a festive pick in our Christmas Collection full of florals.

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Featured Image Credit: Anna Ostanina / iStock.