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Notes on 'La flor de Nochebuena'

Spanish Article's Grammar and Vocabulary Explained


una flor de Nochebuena

Una flor de Nochebuena

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivydawned/3573784473/ used under terms of Creative Commons license.

See the previous page for the Spanish text without translation or notes.

Durante la temporada navideña,
During the Christmas season,

Navideño is the adjectival form of Navidad, the word for Christmas. The feminine form is used here because temporada is feminine. In Spanish, unlike English, nouns aren't readily used as adjectives.

la flor de Nochebuena es muy popular en Estados Unidos.
the poinsettia is very popular in the United States.

Nochebuena, a combination of noche (night) and buena (good) is the word used for "Christmas Eve." Although the phrase flor de Nochebuena could be translated literally as "Christmas Eve flower," doing so would not be as clear here as using the English name of the flower. "United States" is Estados Unidos in Spanish; putting los for "the" in front of it is optional and was not done here.

Pero muchos no saben que la flor es originaria de México.
But many don't know the flower is originally from Mexico.

The phrase ser originario de is frequently used to indicate where something originates. Note that originario (or the feminine form, origiaria is the original sentence here) is an adjective, not an adverb as in the English translation. Note also that the word que is left untranslated in English. In this case, it could have been translated as "that," a word often omitted in English. But in Spanish, que is essential.

En español, la flor tiene muchos nombres
In Spanish, the flower has many names

como la flor de Navidad, la flor de Pascua, la flor de fuego, la estrella de Navidad y la corona de los Andes.
such as the Christmas flower, the Pascua flower, the fire flower, the Christmas star and the crown of the Andes.

The word Pascua originally referred to the Jewish Passover. In Christianity, it came later to refer to Easter, whose timing is theologically connected with Passover. Its meaning later came to be connected with various days of the Christian liturgical calendar, and in plural form (las Pascuas) typically refers to Christmas. In fact, "¡Felices Pascuas!" is one way of saying "Merry Christmas!"

Los indígenas mexicanos la llamaban cuetlazochitl,
The natives of Mexico called it cuetlazochitl

Indígena, meaning an indigenous person, is one of those unusual words that end in -a in both masculine and feminine forms. In the above sentence, la is used to mean "it" because it refers to a feminine noun, la flor. If the reference had been to a masculine noun, lo would have been used.

que significa "la flor de pétalos resistentes como el cuero".
which means "the flower with petals tough like leather."

Note that in Spanish, the period comes outside the quotation marks, the opposite of what is done in U.S. English. Note also that the de in the definition is translated as "with," even though de typically is translated as "of." This provides a more natural translation. You should always translate for meaning, not attempt to translate word for word.

Para los aztecas, la flor roja era símbolo del sangre de los sacrificios que ofrendaban al sol.
For the Aztecs, the red flower was a symbol of the blood of the sacrifices they offered to the sun.

The verbs in this sentence are in the imperfect tense, as is usually the case with verbs that refer to events or repeated actions that occur over a long period of time.

En los EEUU, la flor es conocida como la poinsettia en honor de Joel Poinsett, botánico y el primer embajador estadounidense a México.
In the U.S., the flower is known as the "poinsettia" in honor of Joel Poinsett, a botanist and first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

EEUU is the abbreviation for Estados Unidos. See how the letters are doubled as is often done in an abbreviation of a plural noun.

En México hay una leyenda sobre la flor.
In Mexico there is a legend about the flower.

Hay is a form of haber that is very commonly used to mean "there is." The past tense, as in the following sentence, is había.

Se dice que había una niña muy pobre
It is said that there was a very poor girl

Se dice, a reflexive form of decir, is a common way of saying "it is said" or "they say."

que lloraba porque no tenía regalo para dar al niñito Jesús en el altar de su iglesia.
who cried because she didn't have a gift to give to the baby Jesus on the altar of her church.

Niñito is a diminutive form of niño, a word for "boy."

Un ángel escuchó sus oraciones, y le dijo que cortara las ramas de algunas plantas cerca del camino.
An angel heard her prayers and told her to cut the branches of the plants near the path.

The verb cortara is in the imperfect subjunctive form, because the subjunctive form typically is used with commands and requests that follow que. The le in this sentence is an indirect object pronoun; "to cut the branches" is what the angel said, but the girl is whom the angel told it to.

Cuando llegó la niña al altar, al contacto con sus lágrimas, de las ramas brotaron bellas flores rojas y resplandecientes.
When the girl arrived at the altar, upon contact with her tears beautiful and brilliant red flowers came forth from the branches.

Use of al followed by an noun, seen here in the phrase al contacto, is a common way of saying in Spanish that something occurs as the result of another event. Also note how the word order in this sentence is different than what it would be in English. Such use of verb-followed-by-the-subject word order is much more common in Spanish than it is in English.

Eran las primeras flores de Nochebuena.
These were the first poinsettias.

The translation of "They were ..." also could have been used. As the subject is often omitted in Spanish sentences, you can let context determine the smoothest translation.

Ya tenía regalo adecuado para el niñito Jesús.
Now she had a suitable gift for the baby Jesus.

Ya is a very common adjective whose translation varies widely depending on the context. The adjective adecuado is obviously related to the English "adequate" (making it a cognate). See how a different translation is chosen to make it fit the context better.

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