The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
Christmas Pachelbel- Trans Siberian Orchestra
….and a winter’s tale
by Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen (1805- 1875)
We think of Andersen as a children’s writer but he wrote many of his tales in the “Grimm” style; adult fairy tales that reflect cultural mores. His stories include The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen ( upon which Disney’s Frozen was based), The Emperor’s New Clothes, and many more.
The Little Match Girl is a Christmas story about poverty and a little girl’s transcendent visions. It is believed to be based on Andersen’s own mother’s experience of being forced as a child to go out and beg on a cold night, and staying out underneath a bridge till morning.
Andersen’s poignant tale is a call for compassion. By giving the little girl a voice we hear her intimate thoughts and we are drawn into her plight and want to save her. We have so much for which to be grateful. So as we enter the Christmas madness and bustle, and with hearts of hope and good will, we can learn from the story of a little child.
The Little Match Girl
( my shortened version)
“…Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening– the last evening of the year….”
The little match girl had been out for hours trying to earn a few farthings and not one person had bought a box of matches this night. People were in a hurry to get home where it was warm and they could sit down for supper. She was cold and hungry and so very tired that she sought shelter in a doorway of a closed shop. She had lost her shoes which had been too big for her little feet and her poor coat was tattered and did not keep out the cold at all. To warm her tiny frozen hands she began to light the matches she had been sent out to sell. As she lit the matches one by one she began to see the most beautiful visions in the flame and she felt happy. She saw lights and Christmas trees and even a warm stove and a roast goose set out for supper.
She looked up into the sky, and at that moment a star fell through the night. “Someone has died,” she thought, remembering her grandmother who had loved her and told her that just as a star falls, a soul rises to heaven.
The visions became more beautiful and at last in one of them she saw her beloved grandmother. “Grandmother, please take me with you.” she cried. She didn’t want to lose her so she decided to strike all the remaining matches together and as the light blazed she saw her grandmother as a beautiful angel who lovingly took her hand.
Together they flew in joy and brightness far above the city, and above the hunger, the cold and the suffering, for they were with God.
When the little match girl was found the next day huddled frozen in the doorway there was a beautiful smile on her face……” Poor thing!” “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the Splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered joyfully on the eve of the new year.”- Hans Christian Anderson.
Read the full story here
Andersen himself, thought this was a happy ending though most people of course thought it much too sad and often retold the story with a more favourable earthly outcome. Like Oscar Wilde who followed similar themes in later years (1854-1900), Andersen wrote of class structure, God, art and life, using metaphors. He wanted people to remember the poverty and suffering of the poor and especially of children.
There are still people on street corners, sleeping under bridges and in doorways too. It’s so easy to walk by and pretend not to see them or even to blame them for their own misfortune. Some are trying to escape a painful past and some are suffering from mental illnesses or addictions, which an overburdened health care system cannot accommodate, but all have a story to tell and all were once children. And so we are reminded that there are many children and families who are still hungry and in need at this time of year (and all year),
(I used porcelain doll faces in the illustrations,)