Una noche hace mucho, mucho tiempo, there was una pobre chica named Maria who liked to listen to her abuelita tell stories. She especially liked los Cuentos de Navidad with los pastores, los ángeles, and los Reyes Magos.
Every time her familia ran out of money, Maria’s abuelita told stories, joking that a good story is always free. She lived en un pequeño pueblo in México where most of her amigos played Balero after school. One particular afternoon, Maria was tired of trying to get the ball in the cup during the Balero game.
“Don’t you want to play Escondidas instead? I like hide and seek. What about singing El Patio De Mi Casa? Or even La Gallinita Ciega? The blind hen! Besides, mi abuelita has a piñata full of candy at her house,” she said.
“I want to keep playing Balero. Eat los dulces for me!” one of her friends said, finally catching the ball in the cup.
As Maria ran down la calle, she looked at the weeds growing along the sidewalk in the dirt.
“Much of my life feels like las malas hierbas,” Maria said, thinking of her future goals and dreams.
Then she ran up the wooden steps of her grandmother’s brightly painted casa and burst through la Puerta. Her grandmother’s soft, black cat named Bonita, who loved to tickle Maria with her tail, greeted her.
“Abuelita Natalia, will you tell me another story?” Maria said, swinging at the piñata and eating handfuls of candy.
“No comas demasiados dulces antes de la cena,”* Maria’s abuela said, rolling cornmeal tortillas and cutting vegetables.
“I won’t eat too much candy! I’ll dance around your sombrero instead,” Maria said, turning on la radio. Villancicos de Navidad played on the speakers: “Jesús en pesebre, sin cuna, nació; Su tierna cabeza en heno durmió.”^
“Ahora te cuento una nueva historia. Es una famosa leyenda de Navidad que tu puedes escuchar sólo a los 12 años. Te la hubiera contado antes, pero no tienas la edad,”+ Abuela Natalia said, fixing her hair. Maria curled up in her grandma’s wooden chair and rested her head on a rainbow-colored blanket.
“Había una vez una niña llamada Pepita, una pobre niña mexicana que no tenía dinero para comprar un regalo para el niño Jesús. Ella quería darle un regalo especial a niño Jesús en la Misa de Nochebuena, pero ella no tenía nada que ofrecerle. Mientras caminaba con su primo Pedro a la iglesia, él le dijo que incluso hasta los regalos de amor hacen feliz al niño Jesús. Al darse cuenta de las malas hierbas al lado de la calle, Pepita recogió un puñado de malas hierbas y las colocó en un ramo. Cuando ella entró a la iglesia, se sentía avergonzada de que sólo tenía este regalito para darle al niñoJesús. Mientras colocaba las hierbas en el pesebre de la iglesia, dijo una oración silenciosa con ojos llenos de lágrimas. Entonces ella parpadeó, no creía lo que veían sus ojos: las malezas se transformaron en un ramo de flores de color rojo brillante. Desde esa noche, todo el mundo conoce la Leyenda de las ‘Flores de Nochebuena' o ‘Flowers of the Holy Night.’ La mayoría de las personas llaman estas flores ‘Christmas Poinsettias’ y ven la planta como símbolo de la estrella de Belén.”#
“Abuela, it’s a wonderful story!” Maria said, running to her grandmother’s side and kissing her cheek. “I will ask el niño Jesús to turn las malas hierbas into flores,” Maria said, remembering the weeds on the sidewalk.
“Nieta, es sólo una historia,”** Maria’s Grandmother said, pointing to her potted Christmas Poinsettia by the window.
Maria grabbed the Christmas Poinsettia and stared at it wide-eyed, wondering if it was once actually weeds.
“Of course, it’s only a story,” Maria said, turning off la radio, as it played the last verse of “Noche de Paz.”
“I think I might give it a try and see what happens, Abuelita,” the young girl said, fascinated with the tale.
“Christmas Eve is two nights from now. Maybe my weeds will turn into poinsettias!” Maria said.
"¿Por qué simplemente no sales de nuevo con tus amigos y juegas al Balero hasta que la cena esté lista?”^^ her grandma said.
“Sure, I’ll be back for dinner!” Maria said, running across the entryway’s light brown tiles and down the porch steps.
“Weeds!” Maria said, grabbing handfuls of them along the sidewalk. She shoved them into her pants pockets.
She ran all the way to la Iglesia del Pueblo, collecting every weed she could find—big, small, and dirty weeds. Then she ran up los pasos de la iglesia, knelt and crossed herself, and ran to el belén at the church’s altar.
“These weeds are for you, Jesús,” Maria said, emptying her pockets at the base of the manger display.
Along with the weeds, clumps of dirt and tiny rocks fell from her hands next to el niño Jesús in the straw.
“Does the straw itch your skin?” Maria asked el niño Jesús, taking off her red sweater and wrapping the baby in it. “You can borrow my sweater until Christmas. After that, mi abuelita will want it back so I can wear it to school.”
Then Maria gently arranged all the members del belén, making sure they were standing in their proper places.
“You have to look good for la Nochebuena,” Maria said. “Now this will be nuestro pequeño secreto. . . When I return tomorrow night, I expect to see un jardín de Las Flores de Nochebuena.” Maria ran back a la casa de su abuelita. “La cena! I love tortillas with extra arroz.”
“Ya elegí tu vestido para la Misa de Nochebuena, Maria. Hablé con tu madre. Está en tu cama. Asegúrate de que brillen tus zapatos antes de la Misa. Deben estar muy brillantes,”++ Maria’s abuela said.
As Maria’s abuela said “muy brillante,” Maria cringed, thinking of the weeds that she left en la iglesia. The next morning, Maria ran again a la Iglesia del Pueblo to see if the weeds had become las flores. When she peered through the window, she still only saw weeds at el belén and felt a bit worried.
“By misa del gallo, the weeds will have surely become a garden of red poinsettias,” Maria whispered.
Later that night, Maria, her abuela, her madre, and her padre entered la Iglesia del Pueblo with burning candles. As they took their seats, Maria’s abuela noticed a crowd gathered around the Nativity scene, staring at the weeds.
“Why would anyone ever do anything so awful to el niño Jesús?” one parishioner said, brushing the weeds away.
“Weeds aren’t even flores. At least bring him flores,” another parishioner said, placing roses in the manger.
“Someone must have wanted to spoil our entire Nochebuena by being muy malo!” the priest said to the congregation.
The priest unwrapped el niño Jesús from Maria’s red sweater and threw it in the trash behind the pulpit. Maria’s abuela swallowed hard and looked at her nieta whose eyes were full of tears. Tears streamed down Maria’s mejillas color rojo brillante. She ran out of la iglesia as fast as she could.
“Wait! Where are you going, Maria?” her padre cried, as she ran through the doors of la iglesia.
Maria ran so fast that her padre couldn’t keep up with her, so he let her run all the way home in tears. Despite the taunting from the congregation, Maria picked more weeds and filled sus bolsillos as full as possible.
She crawled into su cama, pulling up the covers, praying: “Por favor niño Jesús, change my weeds into flowers.”
When her abuela and padres came home, they placed their candles by her bedside as una oración and went to sleep. Early on Christmas morning, Maria felt something tickle her nose, thinking it might be la gata de su abuelita.
“Bonita! Es la mañana de Navidad. Get your tail out of mi nariz,” Maria said, shaking her head a few times.
As she slowly opened her ojos, she realized she was lying in una cama de bright red Christmas Poinsettias.
She sat up in bed with mucha emoción, singing: “Feliz Navidad! Feliz Navidad! Feliz Navidad, próspero año nuevo y mucha felicidad!”
“The weeds from my pockets really did become flores!” Maria said with joy. “Abuelita, come quickly!”
Magníficas red and green Christmas Poinsettias grew across the floor, ceiling, and every wall. Maria’s abuela ran into her bedroom with Bonita in her arms. She stopped in awe, sin hablar.
“Nieta, lo siento. No era sólo una historia. ¡Oh! No era un cuento de hadas,”## her abuelita said, still taking it all in. Sus padres rushed into Maria’s room, gasping with excitement at the sight of Las Flores de Nochebuena.
“Si el jardín de flores gets any bigger, we’ll have to move out of la casa!” her madre said, stepping over las hojas.
“Anyone who needs a poinsettia could come over for un ramo,” her padre said, smelling the flowers.
“Hay que tener cuidado con las historias que te cuento de ahora en adelante, Nieta,”*** Abuela Natalia said.
“I gave el niño Jesús weeds, and I did it with amor, so he gave me flores, just like he did with Pepita,” Maria said.
Soon enough, the entire village believed the Legend of the Christmas Poinsettia and built jardines de las flores rojas.
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters
*Don’t eat too much candy before dinner.
^Away in the manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus, laid down his sweet head.
+Now I will tell you a new story. It’s a famous Christmas legend that you can only learn at age 12. I would’ve told you before now, but you weren’t old enough.
#There once was a girl named Pepita, a poor Mexican child who had no money to buy a gift to give the baby Jesus. She had wanted so badly to give Jesus a special present at Christmas Eve Mass, but she had nothing to offer. As she walked with her cousin Pedro to the church, he told her that even the smallest gifts of love make Jesus happy. Noticing the weeds on the side of the road, Pepita picked a small handful of weeds and made them into a bouquet. When she walked into the church, she felt ashamed that she only had this small gift to give the baby Jesus. While placing the weeds at the Nativity scene in the church, she said a quiet prayer with tearful eyes. Then she blinked, not believing her eyes: the weeds changed into a bouquet of bright red flowers. It was a miracle. Since that night, everyone knows the Legend of the ‘Flores de Nochebuena’ or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night.’ Most people call the flowers ‘Christmas Poinsettias’ and see the plant as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.
**Granddaughter, it’s only a story.
^^Why don’t you just go back outside with your friends and play Balero until dinner is ready?
++Maria, I already picked out your dress for the Christmas Eve service. Your mother and I discussed it. It’s on your bed.Make sure you shine your shoes before service. They should be bright and shiny.
##Granddaughter, I’m sorry. It wasn’t just a story. Oh! It wasn’t a fairytale.
***I have to be careful from now on about which stories I tell you, Granddaughter.