The Meaning of Christmas Told through a Mexican Folktale

Using a Tomie dePaola story, The Legend of the Poinsettia, your class can explore the meaning of Christmas.

By Cathy Neushul


Tomie dePaola has a way with storytelling. He manages to convey important messages through simple stories and appealing illustrations. In The Legend of the Poinsettia, he tells the story of a young girl named Lucinda who wants to make a blanket for the baby Jesus in a Nativity scene, but when she is finished, she feels that her work isn’t good enough. An old woman who sees her in despair, tells her that any gift is beautiful. The girl then plants weeds around the manger, and watches them become flaming red poinsettias. Her gift is transformed.

You can have your class discuss what they think this folktale is trying to say about Christmas. Your pupils may have a variety of ideas, but it would be beneficial to help them to realize that the young girl and her family sought to do something meaningful for others. The idea is that the spirit of Christmas is in giving to others. As part of an exploration of Christmas, you can have your class read multicultural stories, like The Legend of the Poinsettia, analyze the story structure, and write their own folktales. 

Christmas Stories with a Multicultural Twist

Before writing their own stories, have your learners get a clear idea of the elements found in a folktale or in a traditional Christmas story. While there are a variety of multicultural-cultural stories to choose from, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez: A story of a boy who spends the Christmas holidays with his grandmother and learns about Puerto Rican celebrations. He also learns a about gift giving. While visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his grandmother, he becomes fascinated with a painting by Diego Velasquez and realizes that he too could be an artist. For Christmas, his grandmother gives him a sketchbook and colored pencils. It is the story of a perfect gift.
  • Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: This story explores Mexican holiday traditions. The characters make tamales as part of their Christmas celebration. A young girl wears her mother’s wedding ring without permission, and loses it in one of the tamales. This is a story that students are bound to relate to in a personal way.
  • Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins and Nicolas Sidjakov: Tells the story of an old Russian woman who searches for the baby Jesus. It is told in the style of a traditional folktale. Both the illustrations and the story itself provide a unique view of the traditional Christmas story.

As you read the stories you have chosen, have learners analyze the way the story is told, the personalities of the characters, and the central message. They can discuss the similarities and differences between each of the stories.

Writing Original Christmas Stories

Once your students have a clear grasp of the elements found in the Christmas stories you have read together, have them come up with an idea for their own story. Make sure to clearly identify and explain your expectations for the assignment. While the length and complexity level may vary by grade, each story should convey a clear message about the holidays.

After individuals are finished with their stories, they can share them with others. Each day you can have a few people read their stories at the end of the school day, or you can divide the class into groups, and have each person share his story within his group. You can also have kids wrap up the story and give it as a gift to a parent or grandparent. In this way, you can spread the spirit of Christmas throughout your school and community.

Other Lessons Plans to Use with The Legend of the Poinsettia: 

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Explore Tomie dePaola’s story The Legend of Poinsettia using this resource. Pupils engage in a variety of activities, including ones that involves science experiments. They also learn about poinsettias.

Celebrate La Posada in Mexico

Have your class learn about traditional La Posada celebrations in Mexico. This is a good way to introduce pupils to a variety of cultural traditions. They can share their own traditions and learn about those of others.

Christmas Around the World

This is a great way to help your class learn about Christmas celebrations around the world. You can have them explore and discuss different holiday traditions. They can also learn about celebrations is a particular country and share their findings with the class.

The Poinsettia: Native Mexican Plant vs. U.S. Christmas Flower

The poinsettia is an important part of Christmas tradition. Have your class learn about this plant using this resource. They can compare and contrast the native Mexican plant with the US version.