A long, long time ago on a bitter cold New Years Eve, a poor little girl with bare feet was trudging along through the cold deep snow. Yes, her feet were bare because she had no real shoes. The large slippers someone had given her had been lost when she ran to get out of the way of a cart and a naughty boy ran away with them. So she was walking in the bitter, bitter cold snow, and her poor little feet were blue with cold.
In her apron she was carrying matches that se was trying to sell for a penny a box. No one had bought any from her all day long and the poor little thing was shivering and hungry; but she was afraid to go home because her cruel foster father would beat her for she had not sold even a halfpenny of matches all day long.
She looked into the bright cheerful windows of homes as she walked by...everyone seemed so warm and comfortable and happy, everyone except the poor little match girl. She saw a beautifully trimmed Christmas tree in one; from another came the tempting aroma of roast goose and she was so very hungry.
It was getting colder and snowing harder and was growing very dark when the little match girl huddled in a corner between two buildings to try and keep warm.
She took one little match from a box and lighted it to warm her frozen fingers. How brightly it sputtered...in it's light she seemed to see a big warm stove. How warm and cozy it was; but when the match burned out, the stove disappeared and she was colder than ever.
She struck a second match and before her was a big table with a glistening white tablecloth. There was a huge roast duck and apples and cake and warm milk, and she was so happy because she was so terribly hungry. Then just when she was reaching for the roast duck the match burned out, and then she was colder and more hungry than ever.
She lighted another match and lo! there was the most beautiful Christmas tree she had ever seen, full of shiny toys and sparkling candles, candies and everything nice. As she watched, the beautiful candles began to rise higher and higher until they were only stars in the sky...then one of them fell.
"That falling star means someone is dying," the little girl said to herself. "My dear Grandmother used to tell me that."
She quickly lighted another match...and another...then a whole handful, and in the glow, so dazzling and bright, stood her kind and loving Grandmother, her arms outstretched.
"Grandmother!" she cried. "Please take me with you! I know you will go away when the match burns out just like the roast goose and the warm stove and the Christmas tree did."
She quickly lighted the whole box of matches because she did not want her Grandmother to go. The matches burned with a blaze that seemed as light as day. Her Grandmother had never seemed so beautiful, and as she took the poor little match girl in her arms she flew up with her in brightness and joy...high, so very high where there was no cold and no hunger and no sorrow and no matches to sell...for they were in Heaven.
In the morning as people passed by, they saw the poor little girl still huddled between the buildings with burned matches all about her.
-adapted from Hans Christian Andersen