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The Little Match Girl
The Little Match Girl Märchen

The Little Match Girl - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 8 min

It 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.

The Little Match Girl Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

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 of 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 I 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 some one 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.“

The Little Match Girl Fairy TaleE. Stuart Hardy (1865 – 1935)

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.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Little Match Girl“

„The Little Match Girl“ is a poignant fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. The story is set in the 19th-century urban landscape and reflects the social issues and living conditions of the time. The backgrounds of the fairy tale can be understood in relation to Andersen’s life experiences and the societal context in which he lived.

Andersen himself experienced poverty and hardship during his early life. Born to a poor family in Odense, Denmark, he had limited opportunities for education and faced numerous struggles. This background influenced many of his stories, including „The Little Match Girl,“ in which he depicts the harsh realities faced by impoverished children.

The 19th century was marked by the industrial revolution, which led to rapid urbanization and the growth of cities. Many people, including children, worked in harsh conditions and lived in extreme poverty. Child labor was common, and children often worked long hours for meager wages. „The Little Match Girl“ reflects these social issues by highlighting the plight of a young girl forced to sell matches in the cold to support her family.

The 19th century was also characterized by the rise of sentimentalism and romanticism in literature. These movements emphasized emotions, imagination, and the power of individual experience. „The Little Match Girl“ showcases these elements by weaving a heart-wrenching narrative that elicits strong emotional reactions from readers. The setting of „The Little Match Girl“ is a 19th-century European city, reflecting the time and place in which Andersen lived. During this period, there was a significant gap between the rich and the poor, with widespread poverty and child labor. This context is evident in the story, as the little girl is forced to work on New Year’s Eve and is left to suffer in the cold streets.

Andersen was a deeply religious person, and his Christian beliefs often influenced his writing. „The Little Match Girl“ features Christian themes, such as the promise of salvation and the presence of a loving, divine force that provides comfort and solace. The story’s imagery and symbolism, including the girl’s visions of her deceased grandmother, evoke notions of the afterlife and the promise of a better existence beyond the earthly realm. These backgrounds and influences combine to create „The Little Match Girl,“ a powerful and enduring story that continues to resonate with readers more than a century after its initial publication.

Andersen’s stories often incorporated elements of folklore and mythology, and they frequently delved into themes such as hope, love, morality, and the triumph of the human spirit. Many of his stories have since become classics, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „Thumbelina,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“ Hans Christian Andersen’s stories have had a significant impact on literature and popular culture, with many of them adapted into various forms, including films, plays, ballets, and musicals. „The Little Match Girl“ has also been adapted in numerous ways, and its poignant story continues to resonate with readers worldwide.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Little Match Girl“

„The Little Match Girl“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a moving tale that has been interpreted in various ways. Some of the key interpretations of the story include:

Symbolism of hope and despair: The story can be seen as an exploration of the stark contrast between hope and despair. The little girl’s visions of warmth, comfort, and love stand in sharp contrast to the harsh reality of her cold, hungry, and impoverished life. The visions can be seen as a representation of the girl’s longing for a better life.

Commentary on social issues: The story can be interpreted as a critique of the social inequalities and harsh conditions faced by the poor in Andersen’s time. The little girl’s suffering and eventual death highlight the neglect and indifference shown by society towards those who are less fortunate.

Theme of escape through imagination: The story demonstrates how the imagination can provide temporary respite from the harsh realities of life. The little girl uses the matches to transport herself to a world of warmth and happiness, away from her miserable surroundings.

Spiritual and religious themes: The story can also be seen as having spiritual and religious undertones. The girl’s ascent to heaven with her grandmother, who acts as a guardian angel, can be interpreted as a representation of salvation and the promise of a better life in the afterlife. The falling star symbolizes a soul’s journey to God, according to the girl’s grandmother, further emphasizing this theme.

Importance of human connection: The story highlights the importance of love and human connection, as seen through the girl’s deep bond with her late grandmother. Despite her physical circumstances, the girl finds solace and comfort in her memories of her grandmother, and eventually, they are reunited in a joyful afterlife.

Social critique: The story serves as a powerful social commentary on the poverty and harsh living conditions faced by many during the 19th century. Andersen highlights the plight of the poor, especially children, who are often neglected and suffer in silence. The story encourages empathy and compassion for those less fortunate and urges society to address social inequalities and injustices.

The power of imagination and hope: Despite her dire circumstances, the little match girl finds solace in her imagination. Through her visions, she escapes her cold and miserable reality, if only for a brief moment. This interpretation emphasizes the power of imagination and hope as a means of coping with adversity and finding comfort in even the darkest of times.

The Christian message of salvation: The story has strong Christian themes, such as the promise of salvation and the presence of a loving divine force. As the little girl lights her matches, she sees visions of her deceased grandmother, who ultimately takes her to heaven. This interpretation highlights the idea of redemption and eternal happiness after a life of suffering on earth.

The fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death: The little match girl’s tragic death serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. Her story encourages readers to reflect on their own lives, appreciate the present moment, and cherish the people they love.

The importance of empathy and kindness: The story invites readers to empathize with the little match girl and reflect on the importance of kindness and compassion in their own lives. By witnessing the girl’s suffering, readers are encouraged to consider the impact of their actions on others and strive to be more understanding and supportive of those in need.

Overall, „The Little Match Girl“ is a multi-faceted tale that has been interpreted in numerous ways, touching on themes such as social critique, the power of imagination, Christian salvation, the fleeting nature of life, and the importance of empathy and kindness.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Little Match Girl“

„The Little Match Girl“ is a short fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author, who is famous for his fairy tales for children. The story was first published in 1845 as part of Andersen’s „New Fairy Tales“ collection. „The Little Match Girl“ has been adapted in various forms over the years, including film, theater, ballet, opera, and music. Here are some specific examples of these adaptations:

Picture books: The story has been adapted into many picture books for children, featuring illustrations by various artists, including Jerry Pinkney, Rachel Isadora, and Lisbeth Zwerger, among others.

Films: Several film adaptations of „The Little Match Girl“ have been produced, including a 1928 silent film by Jean Renoir, a 1954 animated short by Lev Atamanov, and a 1987 live-action short film by Michael Custance. A more recent adaptation is a 2006 animated short film by Roger Allers, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The story has been adapted into several films, including a 1928 silent film, a 1954 animated short film, a 1987 British TV movie, and a 2006 French film, among others.

Theater: The story has been adapted into several stage plays and musicals. One example is „The Little Matchgirl,“ a 2007 musical adaptation by Stephen DeCesare, which features a contemporary score and a modern retelling of the story. The story has also been adapted into numerous stage productions, including an opera by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů, a musical by the British composer Leslie Bricusse, and a play by the Canadian playwright Ron Chambers, among others.

Ballet: „The Little Match Girl“ has been adapted into various ballet productions. In 1991, the English National Ballet premiered a version choreographed by Christopher Hampson, featuring music by Philip Feeney. In 2013, Arthur Pita created a contemporary ballet adaptation called „The Little Match Girl“ for the DanceEast Rural Retreat. In 1993, the American choreographer Arthur Pita created a ballet adaptation of „The Little Match Girl,“ which was performed by the Royal Ballet in London. The ballet received critical acclaim for its poignant portrayal of the story’s themes of poverty, suffering, and redemption.

Opera: The story has also been adapted into an opera, such as „The Little Match Girl Passion“ composed by David Lang in 2007. The piece, which combines elements of opera, choral, and theater music, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2008.

Music: Several musical compositions have been inspired by „The Little Match Girl,“ including the song cycle „The Little Match Girl Songs“ by Augusta Read Thomas and a suite for chamber orchestra called „The Little Match Girl Suite“ by James Newton Howard. The story has also been referenced in various pop culture works, including a song by the band The Pretenders, a segment in the TV show „The Simpsons,“ and a scene in the movie „Love Actually.“

These are just a few examples of the numerous adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen’s „The Little Match Girl.“ The story’s enduring appeal and emotional impact have inspired countless artists to reinterpret and retell the tale across various media and artistic forms. Overall, „The Little Match Girl“ has inspired many artists and creators to adapt and reinterpret the story for new audiences and media, and its themes of poverty, suffering, and compassion continue to resonate with readers and viewers around the world.

Summary of the plot

„The Little Match Girl“ is a poignant fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a poor, young girl on a cold New Year’s Eve. As she tries to sell matches to passersby, the little girl is unable to find any customers and is too afraid to return home, fearing her father’s anger for not selling any matches. She finds a small nook between two buildings and huddles there to shield herself from the freezing wind.

In an attempt to warm herself, the little girl begins to light the matches, one by one. With each match, she sees vivid visions of warmth, love, and happiness. She imagines herself in front of a roaring fireplace, sitting down to a magnificent feast, and even sees a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. As she continues to light the matches, she sees a vision of her loving, deceased grandmother, who was the only person to have ever shown her kindness and love.

In her desperation to keep the vision of her grandmother alive, the little girl lights the remaining matches all at once. Her grandmother appears again, more radiant than before, and tells the little girl that they will ascend to heaven together, where she will no longer suffer from cold or hunger. The next morning, the townspeople discover the lifeless body of the little match girl, still holding the burnt matches, and express pity for her tragic fate. Unbeknownst to them, the girl’s spirit has found warmth, happiness, and love in heaven with her grandmother.


„The Little Match Girl“ by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a poor young girl who tries to sell matches on a cold New Year’s Eve. She has no shoes, and her feet are red and blue from the cold. She is hungry and cold but cannot go home, as she has not sold any matches or earned any money, and she fears her father’s wrath. In an attempt to warm herself, she lights a match, and it momentarily reveals a vision of a warm, inviting stove. As the match goes out, the vision disappears.

She lights another match, and this time sees a lovely feast with a roast goose that comes to life and walks towards her. The vision fades with the match’s flame, and she lights a third match. This time, she sees a beautiful Christmas tree with candles and colorful decorations. As the match burns out, the vision is replaced by stars in the sky.

When she lights a fourth match, her beloved late grandmother appears before her, looking radiant and kind. Fearing that her grandmother will disappear when the match goes out, the girl quickly strikes all the remaining matches to keep her close. As the matches create a brilliant light, her grandmother embraces her, and they ascend to heaven together, where they will know no more cold, hunger, or fear.

The next morning, the townspeople find the little girl’s body in the corner, frozen to death with a smile on her face. While they assume she was trying to warm herself with the matches, they have no idea of the wondrous visions she experienced or the heavenly joy she found in the arms of her grandmother as they entered the New Year together.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, EN, EL, DA, ES, FR, IT, NL, RO
Readability Index by Björnsson27.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index85.5
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.1
Gunning Fog Index7.8
Coleman–Liau Index8.4
SMOG Index7.9
Automated Readability Index5.5
Character Count5.253
Letter Count4.060
Sentence Count65
Word Count986
Average Words per Sentence15,17
Words with more than 6 letters118
Percentage of long words12%
Number of Syllables1.235
Average Syllables per Word1,25
Words with three Syllables42
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.3%
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