STERLING PARK WARD
ASHBURN, VA STAKE
One of the most published American women poets of the last half of the 19th Century was Celia Laighton Thaxter. She was born in 1835 in New Hampshire, where she lived her life. She wrote a poem about Christmas entitled "Piccola." The poem is about an experience a poor French girl had on Christmas morning. Celia Thaxton died in 1895.
In 1914, a woman named Francis Jenkins Olcott published a book of stories for young children to practice their reading. The book was called, Good Stories for Great Holidays. In the book, Francis Olcott wrote a Christmas story based on Celia Thaxter's poem. The story was called "Little Piccola" (pp. 299-301). Francis Olcott died in 1965.
The usage of language in the Little Piccola story is 90 years old. The English majors in the congregation would hear the language of the story as lyrical. To the rest of our us, the language would sound stilted and at times, a little hard to understand.
In as much as the copyrights for both the poem and the story have expired, they are widely available on the Internet. The University of Virginia has published Olcott's story book on the Internet. Because the copyright has expired, I have taken the liberty of updating some words, phrases, and sentences in the story. It still has a little old fashioned flavor to it. Herewith is a modern version of Thaxton/Olcott story of Little Picoola.
II. LITTLE PICCOLA (2005 REVISION)
Her father died when Piccola was a baby. Her mother was very poor. Piccola's mother work hard all day in the fields, but did not earn very much money.
Little Piccola did not have any dolls or toys. She was often hungry and cold, but she was never sad nor lonely.
So what if there were no children for her to play with? So what if she did not have fine clothes and beautiful toys? During the summer there were always birds in the forest, and flowers in the fields and meadows. The birds sang so sweetly, and the flowers were so bright and pretty!
In the winter when the ground was covered with snow, Piccola fed the snow-birds with whatever crumbs she could find. Piccola also helped her mother work, knitting long stockings of blue wool.
One year her mother was sick and could not earn any money. Piccola worked hard all day long. She took the stockings that she knit out to sell on the street. Her little bare feet turned blue with the cold.
Soon it became Christmas time. As Christmas Day drew near, Piccola said to her mother, "I wonder what good Saint Nicholas will bring me this year. I cannot hang my stocking in the fireplace, but I shall put my wooden shoe on the hearth for him. I hope he will not forget me. I hope, I hope, I hope."
"Do not get your hopes up this year, my dear child," replied her mother. "We must be glad if we just have enough bread to eat."
But Piccola would not believe that the good saint could forget her. On Christmas Eve she put her little wooden shoe on the hearth before the fire. She got into bed with her mother and went to sleep dreaming of Saint Nicholas.
As the poor mother looked at the little wooden shoe on the hearth, she thought how unhappy her dear little Piccola would be to find it empty in the morning. The mother wished that she had something, even if it were only a tiny cake, for a Christmas gift. There was nothing in the house but a few coins, and these must be saved to buy bread.
The mother went to sleep crying.
When the morning dawned Piccola awoke and ran to her shoe. Saint Nicholas had come in the night! He had not forgotten the little child who had thought of him with such faith.
What had he brought her? What was in the wooden shoe? Something was looking up at Piccola with its two bright eyes. It started chirping contentedly when Piccola stroked its soft feathers.
It was a little bird--a house swallow. It was cold and hungry. It had flown down the chimney after the fire had gone out. It flew out of the fireplace into the room. It finally crept into Piccola's shoe for warmth.
Piccola was so happy. She danced for joy. She clasped the shivering swallow to her heart.
Then Piccola ran to her mother's bedside. "Look, look!" she cried. "A Christmas gift, a gift from the good Saint Nicholas!" Piccola danced again in her little bare feet. She would take care of the little bird. She would!
Piccola then fixed a Christmas breakfast for the little swallow. She built a fire and warmed the bird. Piccola cared for the bird tenderly all winter long. She taught the bird to eat crumbs from her hand. She taught the bird to eat crumbs from lips. Piccola even taught the bird to sit on her shoulder while she was working making socks.
In the spring Piccola opened the window, and encourage the little bird to fly away. It did fly away, but not very far. The swallow lived in the woods near Piccola's cottage all summer. The bird came early every morning to sing its sweetest songs at Piccola's door. Piccola and the bird were both very happy.
So what was the gift that Piccola received? Was it the bird or something else? It was a bird, but a bird that needed a lot of work. Piccola took care of the bird. She provided service to the bird. The gift Piccola received was the opportunity to serve, to help another creature. Through the service she rendered to the bird, Piccola found happiness money could not buy.
I hope that this during this Christmas time and throughout the coming year we may all be given the gift of opportunities to serve--service opportunties that bring true hapiness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
IV. THE ORIGINAL POEM
Poor, sweet Piccola! Did you hear What happened to Piccola, children dear? 'T is seldom Fortune such favor grants As fell to this little maid of France. 'T was Christmas-time, and her parents poor Could hardly drive the wolf from the door, Striving with poverty's patient pain Only to live till summer again. No gifts for Piccola! Sad were they When dawned the morning of Christmas-day; Their little darling no joy might stir, St. Nicholas nothing would bring to her! But Piccola never doubted at all That something beautiful must befall Every child upon Christmas-day, And so she slept till the dawn was gray. And full of faith, when at last she woke, She stole to her shoe as the morning broke; Such sounds of gladness filled all the air, 'T was plain St. Nicholas had been there! In rushed Piccola sweet, half wild: Never was seen such a joyful child. "See what the good saint brought!" she cried, And mother and father must peep inside. Now such a story who ever heard? There was a little shivering bird! A sparrow, that in at the window flew, Had crept into Piccola's tiny shoe! "How good poor Piccola must have been!" She cried, as happy as any queen, While the starving sparrow she fed and warmed, And danced with rapture, she was so charmed. Children, this story I tell to you, Of Piccola sweet and her bird, is true. In the far-off land of France, they say, Still do they live to this very day.
V. THE ORIGINAL STORY
Her father had died when she was a baby, and her mother was very poor and had to work hard all day in the fields for a few sous.
Little Piccola had no dolls and toys, and she was often hungry and cold, but she was never sad nor lonely.
What if there were no children for her to play with! What if she did not have fine clothes and beautiful toys! In summer there were always the birds in the forest, and the flowers in the fields and meadows, -- the birds sang so sweetly, and the flowers were so bright and pretty!
In the winter when the ground was covered with snow, Piccola helped her mother, and knit long stockings of blue wool.
The snow-birds had to be fed with crumbs, if she could find any, and then, there was Christmas Day.
But one year her mother was ill and could not earn any money. Piccola worked hard all the day long, and sold the stockings which she knit, even when her own little bare feet were blue with the cold.
As Christmas Day drew near she said to her mother, "I wonder what the good Saint Nicholas will bring me this year. I cannot hang my stocking in the fireplace, but I shall put my wooden shoe on the hearth for him. He will not forget me, I am sure."
"Do not think of it this year, my dear child," replied her mother. "We must be glad if we have bread enough to eat."
But Piccola could not believe that the good saint would forget her. On Christmas Eve she put her little wooden patten on the hearth before the fire, and went to sleep to dream of Saint Nicholas.
As the poor mother looked at the little shoe, she thought how unhappy her dear child would be to find it empty in the morning, and wished that she had something, even if it were only a tiny cake, for a Christmas gift. There was nothing in the house but a few sous, and these must be saved to buy bread.
When the morning dawned Piccola awoke and ran to her shoe.
Saint Nicholas had come in the night. He had not forgotten the little child who had thought of him with such faith.
See what he had brought her. It lay in the wooden patten, looking up at her with its two bright eyes, and chirping contentedly as she stroked its soft feathers.
A little swallow, cold and hungry, had flown into the chimney and down to the room, and had crept into the shoe for warmth.
Piccola danced for joy, and clasped the shivering swallow to her breast.
She ran to her mother's bedside. "Look, look!" she cried. "A Christmas gift, a gift from the good Saint Nicholas!" And she danced again in her little bare feet.
Then she fed and warmed the bird, and cared for it tenderly all winter long; teaching it to take crumbs from her hand and her lips, and to sit on her shoulder while she was working.
In the spring she opened the window for it to fly away, but it lived in the woods near by all summer, and came often in the early morning to sing its sweetest songs at her door.