It was cruelly cold and nearly dark in the last day of the old year, and the snow was quickly falling. In the cold and the dark, a poor little girl, without a hat and shoes, was walking about through the streets. It is true she had had slippers on when she came out of her living place, but they were not of much use. Their size was so great that their owner was in fact her mother, And they came off when the poor little thing was running across the street to keep away from two carriages that were moving at a violently quick rate. She had no idea where one of the slippers had gone, and a boy took the other and went running away with it and saying that he might make it a baby-bed, when he had his babies. So the little girl went on with her little uncovered feet, which were quite red and blue with the coldest in an old dust-skirt she had a great number of matches, and had a parcel of them in her hands. After the walk of all day, no one had got a match from her, and no one had given her the smallest amount of money. Shaking with cold and in strong need for food, she went walking slowly like a worm; The poor little girl was the picture of very sad existence. Feather-like snow was falling on her long, beautiful hair, which was hanging in rings and waves on her upper arms, but she did not give attention to them.
Lights were coming out of every window, and there was a good smell coming out of the meat of a great water bird cooked in the oven, for it was the last day of the year. Yes, she saw it was the day. She got herself down between two houses, one of which was greater than the other and coming out to the street. So the two walls made an angle, where she made herself folded low. She put her little feet under her, but it was not possible to keep off the cold; And fear kept her from going back to her living place, for she had done no trade today, and had no money. Her father would certainly give her blows; and it was almost as cold there as here, for they had only the roof over them, through which the wind made a crying sound, though the greatest holes had been stopped up with dried grass and old cloths. Her little hands were like ice from the cold. Ah! She said to herself, probably a burning match might do some good, if it was possible for her to take it out of the parcel and give it a quick rub against the wall, only to make her fingers warm. She took one out - and brush! How it gave out soft bursts, burning! It gave a warm, bright rays, like a little wax-light, as she kept her hand over it. It was truly an uncommon light. It seemed to the little girl that she was seated by a great iron heater, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire was burning! And it seemed so beautiful and warm that the girl had her feet stretched out as if to make them warm, when, sadly, the flame of the match went out, the heater went out of view, and she had in her hand only what had been a match, half-burned.
She put another match on the wall and gave it a rub. With a burst the match went into a flame, and its light came upon the wall, where it went as white as a thin curtain, and she was able to see into the room. The table was covered with a snow-white cloth, on which was put together beautifully cooked meal, with the meat of a water bird, steaming hot and round with apples and dried fruits inside. And what was still more surprising, the waterfowl, the bird meat, made a jump down from the plate and made a baby-like walk across the floor, with a knife and fork in its chest, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there was nothing but the thick, wet and cold wall before her.
She had another match lighted, and then she saw herself seated under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was greater and more beautifully ornamented than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the great house of the businessman. Great numbers of waxed threads were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the store windows, were looking down upon it all. The little one put her hand stretched out to them, and the match went out.
The Christmas lights went higher and higher, till they were like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star falling, with a bright tail of fire in the back. " Someone is going to death, " the little girl said to herself, for her mother's mother, the only one who had ever given love to her, but now dead, had said to her that when there was a starfall, someone gave up the body and went up to the Great One.
Again she gave a rub to a match, and the light came moving round her. In the bright ring, on her feet, was the kind old woman, giving out clear lights, but still looking soft and full of love. " Grandmother, " the little one gave a cry, " Oh ! Take me with you. I'm certain you'll go away when the match's out. You'll be out of view like the warm heater, the cooked fowl, and the great, beautiful Christmas tree. " And she quickly put light to all the matches in the parcel, because she had a strong desire to keep the woman there. And the matches gave a great light that was brighter than the light in the middle of the day, and the woman had never been looking so great or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and the two went, bright and happy, far and far up and away from the earth, to the place where there was no need for food, no cold, no pain, because they were with the Great One.
In the early morning, there on the earth, was the poor little one, her mouth smiling and the sides of her face white, with her weight against the wall; Her body was hard from the cold in the last night of the year; And the New Year's sun came up and put light upon a little body, now dead! The girl was still in a seated position, with her hard body and the matches in her hand, one parcel of which was burned. " She made attempts to make herself warm, " said some. They had no idea what beautiful things she had seen, and no idea what a great light she had gone into with her old woman, on New Year's Day.