Among my very favorite stories of the holiday season is a book about faith: The Legend of the Poinsettia.
This retelling of an old Mexican folk tale, by Tomie dePaola, is simply lovely. It’s the story of Lucida, a young girl helping her mother weave a new blanket for the Baby Jesus, to be used at the Christmas Eve procession for their church.
When her mother falls ill, Lucida tries to finish the blanket by herself, but the threads get hopelessly tangled. She is bereft, certain she has failed the Baby Jesus now that she has nothing to offer him. On Christmas Eve, she lingers outside the church, afraid to show her face. She meets an old woman who assures her that “any gift is beautiful because it is given. Whatever you give, the Baby Jesus will love because it comes from you.”
Lucida looks around her and sees nothing but a bunch of green weeds. She gathers them up, goes into the church, and places them at the manger.
Where they transform into the glowing red stars we know today as the poinsettia, also known as la Flor de Nochebuena.
I read this book to my children every year – and every year, the first time I read it, my heart fills with joy, and I can’t keep from crying.
I offer it to you this holiday season because I believe there’s a message of hope in it for everyone, and certainly for writers. (And also because if you need a good cry, this will do the trick.)
We often get down on ourselves along our paths to publication. Whether we’re unagented and in the query trenches or agented and on sub or sold our debut novel and waiting to see whether people will buy the book, it happens. And also when we’re waiting to see whether reviewers will love us. Or whether we’ll sell another book.
In the depths of our worry, our own words can seem like weeds to us, ugly and without value.
But in the spirit of the season and our own inner peace, I urge us all to remember that in fact our words do have value. They are gifts, which we give to the world with love. Whether we write space operas or historical romances, noir crime, contemporary, or tween detectives, we dig deep within our souls to find our stories. We find the courage to keep doing it over and over again because we have faith. Some of us have faith in a higher power. All of us have, at some level, faith in the power of story to heal, build and create.
In this uncertain time, on the cusp of a new year, my wish for all of you is la Flor de Nochebuena. The miracle of love, peace and good will, courage, faith, joy, and stories.