It was terribly cold; it was snowing, and was almost dark; it was eveningthe last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there walked along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and also barefoot. When she left home she did have slippers on; but that didn't do her much good, did it? They were very large slippers, which had once belonged to her mother; they were much too big for her; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.
One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been grabbed by a street boy, and he'd taken off with it; he thought it would make a great cradle when he someday or other should have children himself. So the little girl walked on with her tiny bare feet, which were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a bunch of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought any matches from her all day; no one had given her any money at all.
She crept along trembling with cold and hungershe was the very picture of misery, the poor little thing!
The snowflakes covered her long blonde hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never even thought of now. Candles gleamed in all the windows, and the delicious smell of roast goose filled the air, for of course it was New Year's Eve; oh, yes, she was thinking of that.
In a little nook formed by two houses, one sticking out toward the street a little further than the other, she sat herself down and huddled there. She had drawn her little feet up close to her, but she grew colder and colder sitting there, and she didn't dare go home, because she hadn't sold any matches and wasn't going to be able to bring home any money: her father would certainly beat her, and besides, it was just as cold at home; there, she didn't have much more in the way of shelter than the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest of the cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.
The cold had made her little hands almost devoid of feeling. Oh! A match might give her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. Ricccht! How it blazed, how it burned! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It actually seemed to the little girl as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament on top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; butthe little flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burned-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another match against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth and fine china, and a roast goose was steaming wonderfully with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was even more amazing to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with the knife and fork stuck in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; whenthe match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lit another match. Now there she was, sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was even larger, and more richly decorated, than the one which she had seen through the glass door of a rich merchant's house.
Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop windows, looked down upon her. The little girl stretched out her hands towards them whenthe match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire as it did so.
"Someone just died!" said the little girl to herself; for her old grandmother, the only person who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.
She scraped another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the light of the match, there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild-looking, and with such an expression of love.
"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!" And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave off such a brilliant light that it seemed brighter than at high noon: never before had the grandmother seemed so beautiful and so tall. She took the little girl by the hand, and both flew, in brightness and in joy, so high, so very high, and then there was neither cold, nor hunger, nor fear anymorethey were with God.
And in the angle of the wall, as the cold dawn broke, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smile on her lips, leaning against the wallfrozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark the child sat there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burned. "She wanted to warm herself," people said. No one had the slightest idea of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor into which, with her grandmother, she had entered on that new year.