The main character of the story is a very poor girl who dies of cold on New Year's Eve but who sees beautiful visions before she does so.
The story has been adapted numerous times for the stage, cinema and television.
On New Year's Eve, a girl from an extremely poor family goes out to raise a little money by either selling some matches that she has or by begging. There is snow on the ground and her clothes are inadequate for the cold weather, she does not even have shoes on her feet. The Little Match Girl is afraid to go home because she has not sold any matches or been given any money all day and is afraid that her father will beat her. Her home is also no warmer than the street.
To warm her numb hands, the girl lights one of her matches. As she does so, she sees an image of a metal stove and feels that her feet are warm too, however, the match quickly burns out. Lighting a second match, she feels that she can see inside the house of a wealthy family, where the roast goose is running around with a fork in its back. Lighting a third match produces an image of a beautiful Christmas tree.
The girl sees a shooting star and begins to think about her late grandmother, who told her that the fall of a star means that somebody is dying.
Lighting a fourth match produces a vision of the girl's grandmother. Knowing that the vision will disappear when the match burns out, the girl lights all of her other matches to make it last longer. She asks her grandmother to take her with her when the vision ends.
On New Year's Day, the girl's body is found. She has frozen to death but there is a smile on her face because of the beautiful visions that she saw.
- Sound files of "The Little Match Girl"
- Video of the 1902 British silent film The Little Match Seller (now in the public domain)