There was a little girl child who had neither a mother nor a father, and she lived in the dark forest. There was a village at the edge of the forest and she had learned she could buy matches for a halfpenny there, and that she could sell them on the street for a full penny. If she sold enough matches, she could buy a crust of bread, return to her lean-to in the forest and sleep there dressed in all the clothes she owned.
The winter came and it was very cold. She had no shoes, and her coat was so thin she could see through it. Her feet were past the point of being blue, her toes were white; so were her fingers and the end of her nose. She wandered the streets and begged strangers, would they please buy matches from her? But no one stopped and no one paid her any attention.
So she sat down one evening saying, “I have matches. I can light a fire and I can warm myself.” But she had no kindling and no wood. She decided to light the matches anyway.
As she sat there with her legs straight out in from of her, she struck the first match. As she did, it seemed that the cold and the snow was a room, a beautiful room with a great dark green ceramic stove with a door with iron scrollwork. The stove emanates so much heat it made the air wavy. She snuggled up close to the stove and it felt heavenly.
But all of a sudden the stove went out, and she was again sitting in the snow, shivering so bitterly the bones in her face chimed. And so she struck the second match, and the light fell upon the wall of the building next to where she sat and she could suddenly see through it. In the room behind th4e wall was a snowy cloth covering a table, and there on the table was china of the purest white, and on a platter was a goose that had just been cooked, and just as she was reaching for this repast, the vision disappeared.
She was again in the snow. But now her knees and her hips no longer hurt. Now the cold was stinging and burning its way up her arms and torso, and so she lit the third match.
And in the light of the third match was a beautiful Christmas tree, beautifully decorated with white candles with lacy ruffs, and beautiful glass ornaments and thousands and thousands of little dots of lights that she couldn’t quite make out.
And she looked up this enormous tree, that went higher and higher, and stretched farther and farther toward the ceiling until it became the stars in the heavens over her head, and a star blazed across the sky, and she remembered her mother had told her that when a soul dies, a star falls.
And out of nowhere her grandmother appeared, so warm and so kind, and the child felt so happy to see her. The grandmother picked up her apron and put it around the child, held her close with both arms, and the child was content.
But the grandmother began to fade. And the child struck more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her…and more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her…and more and more…and they began to rise together into the sky where there was no cold and no hunger and no pain. And in the morning, between the houses, the child was found still, and gone.