By Betsy Mejia

December 3, 2018

13 years ago, we adopted our youngest son from Guatemala. Our first visit took place a week before Christmas. When my husband and I arrived in Guatemala City, we walked the streets of our hotel neighborhood and were disappointed there was little festive representation of the holiday upon us. City buses (called Chicken Buses) were honking and scooters were driven haphazardly. Among luxury car dealerships and retail store fronts were signs of the traditional customs. A woman selling tortillas on a corner. Another woman dressed in colorful garb carried a mountain of coconuts on her head. We were unaccustomed to the heat and I was struck by the smell of cumin in the air. It didn't "feel" like Christmas.

Inside the hotel a Christmas tree stood 3 stories high. It was stunning. All around the large lobby garlands and swags of red and gold were hung. The decor was dramatic, but we were missing the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas at home.

The hotel property was expansive with many gathering places inside and out. Our favorite place to pass time was a peaceful courtyard. The most impressive element of this courtyard was a glorious tall hedge of poinsettias. Among those poinsettias, my husband and I would pass our new sweet babe back and forth.

Known as pascuas, poinsettias are native to Guatemala and bloom October through March. Guatemala is the top grower in the world. (As you might expect, the potted poinsettias we carry in our shop come from local greenhouses.) The poinsettia is named after the botanist who introduced it to North America.

I understand, if we had traveled more of the country, we would have seen pascuas in abundance. I'd love to go back at that time of year again and see them planted in fields and growing as trees in the wild against a back drop of volcanic mountains. Of course, we're all familiar with red, white and pink, but there are also blooms of burgundy, salmon and yellow. Have you seen them marbled and speckled? This colorful part of the plant is actually not a flower/bloom but a modified leaf. The flower is the small center cluster, which is usually yellow. If you are the lucky recipient of this tropical flower, you can nurture it through the winter and into summer. At first the leaves may drop off as it adjusts to the new environment. Keep it away from cold windows and hot heaters. Place in indirect sunlight and a consistent temp is best. Keep the soil moist by watering thoroughly before it completely dries. (Careful, don't leave it in standing water.). Don't fertilize your plant while it's in bloom. When the leaves fade, this is the time to prune it back to about 8" and fertilize. Expect to see new growth and in early summer, you can move the plant into a larger pot with expectation of new color. You can display outside when daytime temps reach 60 and nighttime temps no lower than 55. (Warm up with that thought.)

As the season of Christmas erupts, I sentimentally take a mental visit back to Guatemala. I'm reminded when we display the handmade brightly painted clay nativities we purchased on that first visit. Any time I smell cumin, I am pulled back to a place of beauty with hospitable generous people. I will always remember that first moment I laid eyes on the towering pascuas and how it invited us to return again and again to that courtyard.

Flowers often accompany us on nostalgic journeys as they stir up emotions within us. Pascuas "feel" like Christmas.

Keywords: poinsettia
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