Cuetlaxochitl Versus Poinsettia: The Cultural Appropriation Of The Beloved Christmas Flower

As the holiday season approaches, many people celebrate by putting up a Christmas tree, hanging an evergreen wreath on their door, and buying some poinsettias, but some—well, a lot—have a long and It was a strange journey. Christmas decorations. For example, the poinsettia was once a sacred part of Aztec culture, until Catholic colonists showed up and colonized the place.

The Cuetlaxochitl

Cuetlaxochitl, pronounced "ket-la-sho-she", is a plant native to Central America and southern Mexico, whose name means "the flower that withers, the mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure." Very badass, isn't it? The Aztecs certainly thought so. They believed that it was a sacred gift from the gods, as its flowers glowed bright red in the middle of winter, when all other plants had died. (Technically, that's because they're not flowers at all, but a special type of leaf called bracts, but the gods may have had something to do with it, too.) Purple dye and ceremonial face paint and Treating headaches with its milky sap, everyone understood that if they happened upon a cuatlaxochitl plant in the woods, they were to praise it, thank the gods for it, and leave it untouched.

Come in the Catholic

In the 16th century, Catholic missionaries from Spain arrived in Mexico, determined to conquer the land, establish colonies, and convert its "pagans" to Christianity. They were not above using a sacred Aztec plant as "proof" that God wanted to convert the Mexican people, telling them stories about Cuatlxochitl's fictional place in Christian mythology. In one such story, the Quetlaxochitl plants used by a group of Franciscan friars in the Taxco region of Mexico to decorate the nativity scene for Christmas Mass bloomed immediately after the rosary and litany. In another, a poor little girl named Pepita is on her way to her village church for a Christmas Eve service when she suddenly realizes she has no presents to bring. In bewilderment, she picked up a small bouquet of plants growing in her path and placed it at the base of the altar, where it suddenly blossomed into scarlet flowers.

Joel Roberts Poinsett

We know Quetzalcoatl as the poinsettia today because of Joel Roberts Poinset, who served as the United States ambassador to Mexico in the 1830s. Poinsett was an outspoken supporter of slavery and a slave owner himself, as well as a good friend of Andrew Jackson and a supporter of his Indian removal plan, who had previously fled the governments of Chile and Argentina as they tried to exploit their resources. Were. Basically, not a beacon of international diplomacy. One of his tasks was to ensure the stability of the newly formed Mexican government, although he spent much of his time trying to negotiate territory for the states, but before he kicked them out of the country, he bought a Quetlaxochitl plant to bring home. slap down. ,

From this illegal flora, Poinsett bred more Queatlaxochitl plants in his greenhouse in South Carolina and gave them as holiday gifts to his well-connected friends. Soon, everyone wanted the beautiful plant that turned bright red just in time for Christmas, but they couldn't pronounce its name, so they renamed it after its bearer. Recently, activists have advocated a return to the plant's original name, so once again: it's "ket-la-sho-she". Might as well start practicing.

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