In the sunny land of France there lived many years ago a sweet little maid named Piccola.
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.
Original poem Piccola by Celia Thaxter