|It was terribly cold. Snow had been falling all day, and now it was near dark. It was the last evening of the year, New Year's Eve. A little girl wandered forlornly through snow and dusk. She wore no hat, her feet were bare. Earlier that day she had worn an old, worn-out pair of slippers, but they had been her mother's, way too big for her little feet. They got lost as she hurried across a road trying to get out of the way of a speeding carriage. One she couldn't find, the other was picked up by a boy. He had laughed, shouting that it was big enough that someday, when he got married and had a child, he'd use it for a crib.
Now the child walked through the snow on her bare little feet, they were horribly frozen and blue. In her apron she carried bundles of matches. She was supposed to sell them, but no-one had wanted any matches all day, no-one had given her a kind word or even a coin or a bite to eat. So she went on, hungry and freezing. She dared not go go home without having sold anything, all she would get from her father would be harsh words and harsher beatings. Besides, she reasoned, it was just as cold there, in their meager little place under the roof where paper and rags stuffed into the cracks in the walls hardly managed to keep out the worst of the cold wind. Snowflakes played in her long blond curls; she had beautiful hair, but that was not something she even thought of. She was just too cold and hungry to care. She could see the windows of the great houses, blazing with light, and the smell of roast goose was everywhere. It was New Year's Eve.
She decided to rest for a while in a niche between two houses that offered a bit of protection from the cold wind, but even though she had her little body practically curled into a ball, she just kept getting colder and colder.
Oh, how wonderful it would be to strike one of the matches and warm her fingers in the glow. If she only dared ... finally, she struck one and held her frozen little hands around the flame. What a curious flame it was! The child felt herself transported in front a huge fireplace, she felt the warmth and stretched out her little feet to warm them, too ... when the match burned out. The roaring fire disappeard and she was again in the cold snow, a burnt-out match in her hand.
She lit another one. The glow from the tiny flame played on the wall, grew bigger, and then the wall was gone and she could see right through into the dining room where the table was laid with fine china and crystal, and she saw the roast goose, stuffed with apples and plums. Then the goose, knife and fork in its back, jumped off the table and marched toward the girl. That's when the match went out. All that was left were the cold, grey stones of the wall.
Quickly, she child struck another match. This time, she was sitting under a beautiful christmas tree, much larger and brighter than the ones she had seen through the windows of the rich houses. Thousands of lights blinked through the green and the girl stretched her hands toward them. When the match went out, her eyes followed the lights as they rose higher and higher toward the sky. That's when she noticed that she was actually looking at the stars. She noticed a falling star, trailing its light behind. "Someone is dying," she said to herself, because that is what her now-dead grandmother had told her. A falling star meant a soul was on its way to eternity. She had loved her grandmother, who had been the only one that had ever been nice to her.
She lit another match and in its glow, she saw the grandmother, all aglow in a friendly light and smiling at her. "Grandmother," she cried, "take me with you. I know you're going to disappear as soon as the match goes out, just like the warm fire, and the goose, and the christmas tree!" Quickly, she struck a whole bundle of matches against the wall. Immediately, everything was bathed in light, brighter than the sunniest day she could remember. How beautiful her grandmother looked! And grandmother took the child into her arms, whereupon they stated to rise up, higher and higher into the light. Cold, hunger and fear were forgotten. She had passed into a happier existence.
The next morning, as folks came out into the street to wish each other a "Happy New Year" they found the frozen body of a small child in a little niche between two houses, a bundle of burned-out matchea in her hand. "She was trying to warm herself," they said. But nobody knew of the beautiful things she had seen, and how she had gone into the light with her grandmother.