Since I can remember, I have been fascinated by the meaning of flowers and the poinsettia is one of my favorites. While there are many different colors and varieties it is commonly known as the Christmas star or Christmas flower derived from a Mexican legend where is it called flor de la Noche Buena. Interestingly, the plant is not really a flower but the typically red tops are actually leaves that have changed color.
The Aztecs associate the color red with purity and used the plant as dye for skin and clothing. The poinsettia also symbolizes motherhood and was used in holistic remedies.
Today the poinsettia is commonly thought of as the star of Bethlehem which led the wise men to Jesus. The red leaves are thought to symbolize the blood of Christ while the white variety are thought to represent purity.
While there are dozens of colors and varieties, I fall in love each year with the variegated varieties of salmon and pinks proving once again that variety is the spice of life.
Here are two of my favorite Christmas books by Tomie DePaola. The Legend of the Poinsettia and Christmas Remembered are short stories perfect for sharing with creatures big and small.
In fact I love poinsettias so much that I regularly make rolled sugar cookies with my poinsettia cookie cutter. See below for my favorite rolled cookie recipe from Joy of Cooking.
Joy of Cooking Rich Rolled Sugar Cookies – 2 ½ to 3 ½ dozen
Beat on Medium Speed until very fluffy and well blended:
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
Add and beat until well combined:
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
Stir until well blended and smooth:
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
Divide the dough in half. Place each half between 2 large sheets of wax or parchment paper. Roll out to a scant ¼ inch thick, checking the underside of the dough and smoothing any creases. Keeping the paper in place, layer the rolled dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate until cold and slightly firm but not hard, 20 to 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the upper third of the over. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Grease cookie sheets.
Working with one portion of dough at a time (leave the other refrigerated), gently peel away the replace 1 sheet of paper. (This will make it easier to lift the cookies from the paper later.) Peel away and discard the second sheet. Cut out the cookies using 2- or 3- inch cutters. With a spatula, transfer them to the cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used; briefly refrigerate the dough if it becomes too soft to handle. If desired, very lightly sprinkle the cookies with colored sprinkles or colored sugar.
Bake, 1 sheet at a time, just until the cookies are lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges, 6 to 9 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool. If desired, decorate with royal icing.