Every one of my favorite childhood stories seems to have the thread of compassion, helping those who have less, and looking for the upside when everything seems upside down. The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Anderson, first published in 1845 during Victorian times is one of these books.

The little match girl, Liesel, is forced by her father to sell matches on the icy cold streets of the city.

On this one snowy night on the eve of the New Year, she hasn’t sold any matches. Wealthy people walk past her as though she were invisible. Her feet are bare because she lost her too-big slippers when she hastily avoided a fast-moving carriage. Her pockets and hands were full of matches; she was penniless and afraid to go home. Her home was no better. The frigid winds and blowing snow streaming through the roof and walls, coupled with her father’s hardened heart, was no different than the harshness of cold, snow-laden streets on which she traveled.

Cold and hungry, she hunkers down in the corner of a building.

Artist Credit: Roland Heyder, 2005

Eventually, barely able to move, she begins to burn the matches. In each flame, she sees a vision.

In the brief flame of the first match, as it gives a slight warmth to her fingers, she sees a roaring fire in a great iron stove adorned with brass knobs.

The second match she lit illuminated the wall, and as she stared, she could see through the wall where a large dining room showcased a table filled with all kinds of delicious, irresistible treats.  However, as she reached out her hands, the flame extinguished.

Photo Credit: Jed Owen

The third vision was a magnificent Christmas tree lit with bright candles and adorned with beautiful ornaments filled with tasty treats.

Her match went out, but she saw the candles transform into stars high up in the sky. She saw one star fall from the sky, and she remembered her grandmother, the only one she felt had truly loved her, telling her that when a star fell from the sky, a soul departed to Heaven.

Photo credit: Daniel Marin

She lights the fourth match, and her deceased grandmother appears. Fearing her grandmother would disappear like the previous visions, she lights all her matches. Finally, her grandmother scoops her up in her arms and carries her to Heaven.

The matches represent the irony of having the opportunity for warmth and light, but not the access. They symbolize safety if she sells them and hope when she taps into from her heartfelt dreams as she lights each match, finally, at once lighting them all.

Another poignant symbolism is the Christmas tree. The evergreen tree is a long-standing symbol of hope and life. The ancient symbolism of all trees represents nourishment, transformation, and liberation. They represent growth and are said to be the home of spirits.