t was terribly cold; the snow was falling, and the dark evening was setting in; it was the last evening of the year—New Year’s Eve. In this cold and uncomfortable darkness a poor little girl, bareheaded and barefooted, was walking through the streets. She had certainly had some sort of slippers on when she left her home, but they were not of much use to her, as they were very large slippers. Her mother had used them last, so you can guess they were large ones. As the little girl ran across the street just as two carriages were passing at a terrible rate, she lost the slippers. One of the slippers could not be found, and the other a boy ran away with. He said he would use it for a cradle when he got children of his own.
There was the little girl walking about on her naked little feet; they were red and blue with cold. In an old pinafore she had some bundles of matches, and in her hand she carried one of them. No one had bought anything from her the whole day, and no one had given her a penny. Hungry and shivering, she passed on, poor little girl, looking the very picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long yellow hair, which curled itself so beautifully about her neck; but of course she had no thoughts for such vanities. Lights were shining in all the windows, and there was such a delicious smell of roast goose in the street. “Ah! it is New Year’s Eve,” she thought.
Over in a corner between two houses—the one projected a little beyond the other—she crouched down, with her little feet drawn up under her; but she felt colder and colder, and she dared not go home, for she had not sold any matches or got a single penny; her father would beat her, and, besides, it was just as cold at home. They certainly had a roof over their heads, but through this the wind whistled, although they had stopped the largest cracks with rags and straw. Her little hands were quite benumbed with cold. Ah! a match might do some good. If she only dared to take one out of the bundle and rub it against the wall, and warm her fingers over the flame! She took one out—ratch!—how it spurted, how it burned! It was a warm, clear flame, just like a little candle, when she held her hand round it. It was a wonderful light; the little girl thought she was sitting right before a great iron stove with bright brass feet and brass mountings. How beautiful the fire burned! How it warmed her! But what was that? The little girl stretched her feet out to warm them also, and the flame went out—the stove vanished—she had only the small stump of the burned match in her hand.
A new match was rubbed against the wall; it burned, it gave a beautiful light, and where the light fell on the wall it became transparent like a veil. She could see right into the room, where the table was covered with a bright white cloth, and on it a fine china dinner service; the roast goose, stuffed with prunes and apples, was steaming beautifully. But, what was still more delightful, the goose jumped from the dish and waddled along the floor, with knife and fork in its back, straight toward the poor girl, when the match went out, and there was only the thick, cold wall to be seen. She lighted a new match. Then she was sitting under a beautiful Christmas tree; it was still larger and more decorated than that she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant’s last Christmas. Thousands of candles burned upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those that you see in the shop windows, were looking down upon her. The little girl stretched both her hands toward them—and the match went out. The light seemed to go farther and farther away from her. She saw now that they were the bright stars. One of them fell down, leaving a long train of fire after it.
“Now someone is dying,” said the little one. Her old grandmother, who was the only one who had been good to her, but was now dead, had told her when a star falls a soul goes to God.
She rubbed a match again on the wall. It gave such a light, and in its luster stood the old grandmother—so clear, so bright, so mild, so blessed!
“Grandmother,” cried the little one, “oh, take me with you! I know you will be gone when the match goes out—gone, just like the warm stove, the beautiful roast goose, and the great, beautiful Christmas tree.” And she rubbed quickly all the remaining matches in the bundle,—she would not lose her grandmother,—and the matches burned with such a splendor that it was brighter than in the middle of the day. Grandmother had never before been so beautiful, so grand. She took the little girl in her arms, and they flew away in brightness and joy, so high—high, where there was no cold, no hunger, no fear—they were with God!
But, next morning, in the corner by the house sat the little girl with red cheeks and a smile about her mouth, dead—frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The sun of New Year’s morning rose up on the little corpse, with the matches in the pinafore, and one bundle nearly burned. “She wanted to warm herself,” said the people. No one knew what beautiful visions she had had, and in what splendor she had gone into the New Year’s joy and happiness with her old grandmother.