The mountain pass to Cuernavaca can make for a beautiful drive. Sloping fields of grain dot this season's landscape with sheaves of harvested stalks, little golden pyramids lashed together at the top. The forested descent into the city along the libre, or toll-free interstate road, also treats eyes attuned to December, with roadside vendors and small, local greenhouses selling a plant native to this particular neck of the woods. Poinsettias, or nochebuenas as they're called here, are big and red and lush in their pots, often more than tempting enough to take home.
Wednesday found us headed in that direction, paying a holiday visit to some friends. We let ourselves indulge in the idea of having nochebuenas as a red carpet rolled out for our arrival, a welcoming of color and an advent for Christmas soon to come. Nochebuena is the word in Spanish for "Christmas Eve," an evening graced with the flower's bright red leaves since the Catholic Church began to spread through conquered Mexico.
Rife with legends, Christian, pre-, and urban, the flower has a life of story, as well. And thanks to a U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the flower has both a name and an existence widely prevalent in the English-speaking world. The poinsettia is a bit of Mexico in the Christmas traditions up north, and like the first samples sent to South Carolina by Joel Poinsett with enthusiasm and hope, I'm sending out greetings in the same spirit of promise, wishing every dear reader a beautiful string of celebratory days: a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year--Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo.