Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Little Matchgirl

As Advent is a time for pausing and reflecting I thought I would do it by reading through a book. This year I have chosen 'Lighted Windows' by Margaret Silf. It starts on the 1st of December - tomorrow.

But, this evening I thought I would start by reading the introduction. I was amazed to discover that Margaret writes about 'The Little Matchgirl'. Amazed because when I was out with friends this evening we were talking about just this story.

Let me share what Margaret has written:-

'The 'Little Matchgirl' wasn't a story I was familiar with, but as she [a friend] retold it, it came to life in a way that reflects, for me, something of the spirit of this Advent journey. The little matchgirl was a young child, undernourished and very poor. She earned her daily bread by selling matches, but the earnings were sparse and at home a cruel father was waiting to punish her if she failed to bring home enough money. One dark winter night she was standing in her usual place, shivering and gazing at the lighted windows of the big houses all around her, catching fleeting glimpses of all that was going on inside those rooms - the preparations for Christmas, the lovely gifts, the bright decorations, the happy faces, the smell of Christmas puddings and roasting goose.

All she had was a box of matches and there were no customers tonight - they all had other things on their minds. 'Dare I strike one?' she wondered. She took out a match, and struck it, gazing for a few brief moments into its blaze of light. As she did so, she imagined that it was one of those lighted windows. She looked inside, in her imagination, and entered into a warm room where loving friends might welcome her. Another match; another scene. Another window to look into. Perhaps a fine dinner set out for a family. The crackling of the goose, the aroma of mince pies. Food and shelter. And so she continued, until she came to the last match in the box.

The story has a bittersweet ending. As she strikes her last match, the little matchgirl sees a shooting star falling across the night sky and her granny is standing there, smiling, waiting to gather the child into her arms and carry her home to heaven. The frozen child is discovered the next morning, with an empty matchbox in her hands and a deep, contented smile across her white face.'

[Note from Linda:- Here is another summary of the story - "On a cold New Year’s Eve, a poor girl tries to sell matches in the street. She is freezing badly, but she is afraid to go home because her father will beat her for not selling any matches. She takes shelter in a nook and lights the matches to warm herself. In their glow, she sees several lovely visions including a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. The girl looks skyward, sees a shooting star, and remembers her deceased grandmother saying that such a falling star means someone died and is going into Heaven. As she lights her next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. She strikes one match after another to keep the vision of her grandmother nearby for as long as she can. The child dies and her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the dead child in the nook."]

Back to 'Lighted Windows':-

'The Advent journey invites you to share something of the magic and the mystery of what it means to look into some of your own 'lighted windows'. But these are not the windows of fantasy. They are the windows of our common quest to discover 'God-with-Us' - Emmanuel, God incarnate in the world of everyday reality with all its shame and its glory. They are like 'windows' of an Advent Calendar, leading us ever closer to the mystery that is born in Bethelehem.'
Looking forward to opening the first window tomorrow.

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