When the rest of the world is merrily celebrating Christmas, I suddenly thought of a classic piece I read in my childhood and several times thereafter. I’m sure it’s something most of us have read in school. It’s the famous Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, ‘The Little Match Girl’.
Every time I read the story, my heart gets heavy and I sit in silence for some time. The grey and blue illustrations of the book make me touch the little girl’s sorrow though I know one can never really feel it unless she experiences the same. It often makes me wonder that – it’s not just New Year or Christmas – but in every festive occasion or fiesta, when people have (and waste) so much of food and exchange the best of gifts, there are thousands of kids like this little Match Girl, wandering in the chill winter, barefoot, either orphaned or nearly abandoned by their parents – who choose not to care. Not that I can do much (other than some charity which I consider pretty insignificant) but my heart bleeds!
‘The Little Match Girl’ – The story sends a shock wave as it introduces death in bright sparkling images as the little girl keeps burning the matchsticks. I could visualize the radiance in the girl’s face as she wakes up to an alternate form of reality through those seemingly-magical matchsticks. The description is indeed poetic and also surreal as she began to imagine “a big stove with polished brass feet and handles until the match runs out…”
Even her imagination of the stuffed goose with a carving knife on it and a huge Christmas tree with thousands of lighted candles gleaming under its branches – were shockingly implausible. But in all her vision and the imagination, we come back to face the glaring truth. The reality that the little girl is dying! And then Andersen sweetened the harsh reality by his powerful literature on the vision of the girl’s beloved grandmother holding her in her arms.
“Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. “Someone is dying,” thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.”
The story makes us realize the alternate forms of reality. We realize that how privileged we are to have lived inside the glossy secured bubble – though the narrative is such that it does not make you feel guilty over your profusion. At the end of the story, it calms your soul like a sad prayer and makes you rethink your priorities and what we can contribute to the society – the needy and the helpless!
Christmas holds a special place in my heart and this is one festival like several others I celebrate with a lot of zeal, but every Christmas and New Year eve, the story of The Little Match Girl flashes in front of my eyes. The timeless Christmas classic will always be close to my heart.