On a freezing New Year's Eve, a poor little girl with long yellow hair walked barefoot and bareheaded through the streets, trying to sell matches. She was cold, hungry, and miserable, having not sold any matches or received any money all day.
As the evening grew darker, she crouched down in a corner between two houses, shivering and feeling even colder.
In an attempt to warm herself, the girl lit a match and saw a comforting vision of a warm stove. However, the vision disappeared as soon as the match went out.
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.
She lit another match and saw a beautiful Christmas tree, but this vision also vanished when the match burned out. When she lit a third match, she saw her deceased grandmother, who had been the only person good to her in her life.
Desperate to stay with her grandmother, the girl lit all her remaining matches at once, creating a bright and splendid light. Her grandmother appeared even more beautiful and grand than before, and she took the girl in her arms. Together, they flew away to a place where there was no cold, hunger, or fear.
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.
The next morning, the little girl was found dead in the corner, her cheeks red and a smile on her face. She had frozen to death on the last evening of the old year, with the matches in her pinafore and one bundle nearly burned. People assumed she had tried to warm herself, but they were unaware of the beautiful visions she had experienced and the joy and happiness she had found with her grandmother in her final moments.