It is the Christmas season again, a time when I would like to get in the holiday mood but the shallow saccharin sentiments used to mask the aggressive consumerism just feed my cynicism. But that is not what I’m going to complain about today, no today I want to ask what the hell is up with the “The Little Match Girl”being a beloved Christmas story! Really? Mind you this is coming from someone who loves Rare Exports and Black Christmas. I’m fine with Elder God Santa and a slasher hiding himself in a sorority house as the girls pack for winter break. I understand my love of horror can be a bit odd especially during this time of the year, but I draw the line at this fairy tale.
The story is by Hans Christian Andersen, who for those you who are familiar with fairy tales should be cause for alarm (at least when you’re trying to calm children for bed). In it a little girl who has no shoes is dying of hypothermia on New Years Eve. She is afraid to go home because her father will beat her for failing to sell the matches. She ends up lighting each match for warmth during which she hallucinates a warms stove, a Christmas tree, and her dead grandma—the only person that has ever been kind to her. In the end she succumbs to the cold and her frozen little body is found with a smile on its face. Lets send the little ones to bed with that image in their heads.
Christmas seems to need a little sadness and a lot of nostalgia, which I’m fine with. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas” are my favorite Christmas songs because they show longing for something that once was, note both songs were written during World War II. At the time many knew that they would not be home for Christmas that they may never get home, but it is still a possibility. There was still hope. A Christmas Carol needs its ghosts and needs its suffering, but it also needs Scrooge’s redemption and the knowledge that Tiny Tim, that annoying little sprite, can be saved and live a long life. Take It’s a Wonderful Life (a film I hate, but I understand it’s appeal), George Bailey’s possible suicide attempt is necessary, but so is his discovery that life is worth living. Whereas the Little Match Girl dies alone, but that is alright because she’s in heaven. Children die miserable deaths from neglect, but don’t worry or feel guilty for your apathy, they get a nifty afterlife. Merry Christmas!
I suspect as with all things this comes down to taste, and if I was religiously inclined I may view the tale a bit differently. If you enjoy this story there is nothing wrong with that, but in the end I much prefer Terry Pratchett’s take on it in Hogfather.