National Poinsettia Day
Poinsettia Day celebrates the beautiful red flowering plant that has come to be associated with Christmas, the poinsettia. The plant is native to Mexico, where it was used by the Aztecs; its flowers were used to produce red dye, and its sap to treat fevers. Franciscan missionaries in Mexico used it in the 17th century as part of nativity processions, the first time it became associated with Christianity. A story has been passed down about a poor Mexican girl who didn't have anything to honor baby Jesus with at a procession. An angel told her any gift from the heart was a good gift, so she gathered weeds from the roadside. When she placed them around the manger they transformed into poinsettias. In Mexico the flowers are called La Flores de la Nochebuena, or the Flowers of the Holy Night, and are displayed on December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
Poinsettias take their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first Minister to Mexico, who sent cuttings of the plant back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1837, William Hickling Prescott, a gardener and historian, was asked to rename the plant and named it after Poinsett, because of his achievements in government and horticulture. By some odd coincidence, Poinsett died on December 12, the same day as the Day of the Virgin Guadalupe, and the same date that would become National Poinsettia Day.
The Poinsettia gained its modern-day popularity largely because of the work of the Ecke family. Albert Ecke came to the Hollywood, California, area in 1906, and was selling poinsettias within three years. His son, Paul Ecke Sr., came up with the idea that the red flowers would sell well around Christmas. Success with the idea led Albert to buy five acres of land in nearby El Monte, and soon the plants were being shipped to customers across the country. Paul Sr. took over the family business after his father's death, and in 1923, moved operations to forty acres in Encinitas. Paul Sr.'s son, Paul Jr., came up with the idea of growing the plants in greenhouses, and in how to better market them. He brought the plants to The Tonight Show, The Dinah Shore Show, and to Bob Hope's Christmas Specials, and got them featured in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes & Gardens.
Today, poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States. Because of the great role the Ecke family played in this, a July 2002 Congressional resolution honored Paul Ecke Jr. This resolution also acknowledged that National Poinsettia Day had existed for over 150 years, possibly referencing that it has existed since Joel Robert Poinsett's death.
How to Observe
Celebrate the day by buying some poinsettias to decorate your house with, or to give to a friend as a gift.