The Little Match Girl: Brave Pretender
‘“She wanted to warm herself,’ the people said.
No one imagined what beautiful things she had
seen, and how happily she had gone…”
—Hans Christian Andersen
On a cold winter’s evening, the last of the year, she finds herself wandering about the city barefoot, penniless. Only a handful of matches to sell. No one wants them, no one looks her way. She might as well be a ghost—invisible, dead to the world.
At the crossroads of the city, coaches and buggies mill about—those on foot brush past her as formless shadows, faces stripped of color. She calls out to each one, brandishes her meager wares, each time unnoticed. A living girl drifting in a world of dead things.
They might as well be ghosts…so…cold.
She shakes her head to clear it of the growing fear and continues on. She is searching for something: a soul to care, or perhaps a light to claim as her own.
Passing through a market street, she observes tilted faces and twisted homes and tries to find some small bright scrap of self in this, with which to fashion an image, an identity, an ideal. A shred of hope to cling to. But the lights are going out along the streets, and the darkness is so thick, swallowing her small figure in shadow.
The faint specks of light that remain are now so much harder to possess.
Still, she is unfazed—no longer hoping to sell her wares, she will use them for herself! One match struck, and a golden spark is lit—barely a flicker.
No, a flame. And in that flame a fairy dancing!
She burns through three more matches—and beholds the vision multiplied.
More golden dancers to entertain me! Ah, look—they are inviting me to be a part of their fun! The stars are kind, to have granted me the company of such dear friends in this dark. Tonight, I think I hold heaven in my hands.
Dancing through the soulless streets with matches blazing, ignoring the protests of her frozen feet, she becomes one light among many as the matches, yielding up their fire, lend their bodies to the dance. The dancers bend and break, crackle and split and sigh. They die out one by one, consumed by the ravenous night.
Match by match by match she goes along, already nothing more than a faint smudge of light wavering against the backdrop of gray houses—more spirit than girl.
Ten matches gone now, and still the cold penetrates deeper. It seeps into the hollow spaces of her spine, constricts her blood vessels to the breadth of poppy seeds. Still, her eyes burn with inner fire, celestial light. She doesn’t notice that all her wares have burned through, their charred corpses circling her fading figure in the dust of the street.
Body numb with cold, she curls up in the snow to sleep—mind aglow with flaming visions—the brightest night of her life.
This time of year is always a bit funny to me.
Just when the professors think they can slip us one more assignment,
We cram for finals.
The days of this month that used to be spent putting up lights, listening to music on the record, and picking out the perfect tree—
Are now just mere memories and moments of nostalgia,
As we waste away in the study corner of the library.
“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has become the most stressful.
We go from writing five essays in one week to sitting in our childhood homes.
Those 12 days of Christmas are numbered by outlines and due dates.
December slips out from beneath us and before we know it,
We’re counting down to the New Year.
Joyful carols carried by wind, crazed shoppers hunting for bargains, and cookies cut into cute snowmen, sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Christmas time again. But it wasn’t always so merry. Not for my village.
They still talk about the mysteries of Mistletoe Wood today, which looms outside our village.
The legend starts with gingerbread.
It was a crisp December afternoon, and two girls were skipping home from school. All bundled up with rosy cheeks, they looked like little dolls. They carried baskets of goodies from the bakery that bounced with each step and were about to take the shortcut, which happened to lead directly through the Mistletoe Wood.
All of a sudden, a gaunt girl, Bertha, stepped out in front of them, dressed in rags and tatters. She wore a crown made of mistletoe. She begged for food.
“All we have is gingerbread cookies,” Gertrude offered, and the girl received them with gratitude.
Millicent, being proud as ever, declared, “We paid good shillings for those. Now we need something in return.”
“I don’t have anything,” Bertha frowned.
“I see you do,” Millicent’s eyes glimmered cruelly. “That crown is beautiful. Give it to me.”
Bertha took a step back in defiance.
“Milicent, stop being so wicked. Let’s go,” Gertrude interjected and took her friend by the arm.
With fiery eyes, Milicent snatched the crown off Bertha’s head.
Bertha tried to retrieve it, but Milicent was a good foot taller and held it way above her head.
Gertrude, being small herself, couldn’t recover it either as she pleaded with her friend to give it back.
“Okay, I’ll give it back,” Milicent finally acquiesced, and added slyly, “but only if you win. I challenge you to a bake-off. Whoever makes the best gingerbread wins. Tomorrow.”
Bertha agreed and stormed away.
Gertrude once more reprimanded Milicent, who shushed her.
A roaring sound rang through the forest, as if a grumpy bear had been awakened from a deep slumber, and the girls scurried off.
Gertrude and Milicent awoke the next day to a commotion outside. Shouts of amazement. Right outside of town, stood a huge gingerbread house with candied windows, icing and gumdrops. Beside it was Bertha, eyes twinkling.
The townsfolk stared in awe.
“It’s mistletoe magic,” Bertha said coolly. “The forest heard how rude Milicent was and for the first time ever, it uprooted itself. It helped me build this just to make a point. These trees labored over this thing all night. They assembled the roof, carefully passing pieces from fellow branch to branch. And voilà. I won.”
“Not so fast.” Milicent said, refusing to lose. “It could be a trick.”
“By all means, come inside and see,” Bertha beckoned. “It’s real and fully furnished.”
Milicent trooped forward, but Gertrude whispered at her not to go.
As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed behind her.
Milicent whirled around and tried the door, but it was sealed shut by magic.
“Hello, Milicent,” a chorus sang. The oven popped open and a band of gingerbread people hopped out. “We’d like our crown.”
At that, Milicent screamed and the door swung open. The crazed cookies chased her outside.
“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t outrun us, we’re the gingerbread men,” they chanted in unison.
Milicent stumbled, falling into the cool forest dirt, sullied dress. She scowled as she threw the crown down.
The cookies, who were decorated as little knights, picked it up gingerly and handed it back to Bertha, their rightful queen.
The girls eventually apologized to each other, and all was well again. Milicent learned her lesson and the gingerbread knights became small but mighty protectors. They even accompanied the girls to school.
However, the forest never quite calmed. Its anger and unrest lasted despite the amends that were made. The forest held a grudge against the humans and odd things had been happening ever since it was awakened, always around the time Bertha called it to help. Always around Christmas. We thought it was also because the forest didn’t like how its brethren evergreens were kidnapped and decorated during Christmas time. But a lot of things went missing as the forest played its tricks.
Once we got rid of the gingerbread house, which stood for years and years, Mistletoe Wood finally became still and quiet once more.
Besides, it was not good to leave an abandoned gingerbread house around. That kind of thing attracts unwanted attention. One day, a witch came across it and decided it would be a nice upgrade from the cave she’d been living in for centuries. After the witch was defeated by Hansel and Gretel, we knocked it down to prevent others from inhabiting it.
We still bake gingerbread around Christmas time years later, but we never forget the house and forest. We’re thankful now that Christmas can truly be merry and bright.
Love, Your Christmas Baby
It is December 28, 2001.
For the past month, Grandpa’s record player has been dedicated
Almost exclusively to Nat King Cole’s Christmas album.
It has been 28 days of “The Christmas Song,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night”
But today your home rests in an unusual state of quiet.
Scraps of wrapping paper and tinsel decorate the floor.
The hardwoods feel the absence of three jovial children and one fluffy, four-legged angel.
Today, they’re down the street at Aunt Jen’s house,
Patiently waiting for the arrival of their newest family member.
Mary is ecstatic and unaware that she will be my second mother,
Katie tenderly welcomes yet another squishy-faced baby into her life,
Chris prays that I’m a boy and drops the phone dramatically
when you call to tell him that he has a third sister.
Luckily his disappointment is short-lived
And when they meet me for the first time, he becomes increasingly concerned about me,
Specifically, the “cuts” and “acne” on my face.
Newsflash, Christopher: I just exited a womb; my skin is doing its best.
Mom, despite having just given birth to your fourth child,
You let everyone pile into your hospital bed
And swaddle me in a soft purple blanket.
Dad, you’re behind the video camera,
Capturing the welcome of a very lucky Christmas baby.
Best Acts of Kindness for the Holiday Season
- Hold the door for a fellow Friar
- Donate old toys, books, or clothes
- Bake cookies for your friends
- Pick up litter
- Go to your professors’ office hours
- Buy coffee for the person behind you in line
- Do the dishes for your roommates
- Give your professor a holiday card
- Tell your family that you love them
- Thank the Ray workers
- Give your professor a good “Rate My Professor” review
Tiff and Earl
Dear Tiff and Earl,
I want to give Ed Cooley a holiday present. What should I give him?
Ed Cooley’s #1 Fan
Hey Ed Superfan!
I heard that a coach’s favorite present is the win he gets off the court. Show coach Cooley some holiday spirit and consider showing your Friar giving spirit by donating to a local charity or toy drive this Christmas. Use the holidays to show coach Cooley why he picked the No. 1 school, Providence College!
Show That Spirit!
This will be cute: roll yourself up into a little Christmas basketball and roll down right into his little office and pop out and give him a merry little Christmas scare.
A Green Sweater
I pull my knit sweater over my head,
The soft green fabric kissing my skin,
Simultaneously tugging at my curls,
Peering over my shoulders curiously as I debate: jeans or leggings?
My sweater embraces me,
Gently reminding me of rainy days,
Days Dad and I would sit indoors,
Eyes eagerly scanning a puzzle as we tried to pick up the pieces,
Putting together our incomplete picture,
One we can’t resolve no matter how hard we try.
The vivid green is equivalent to my mother’s eyes,
Eyes that always held love for me despite a tongue that failed to do the same,
Invoking matches that were burnt against cigarettes,
Igniting flames that often caused more damage when they were put out.
Tainted tear drops still stain the sweater’s inseam,
Ensuring the memory of her is never eased,
As my first heartbreak forced me to turn to my item of comfort,
Questions and confusion being whispered into the sleeve’s arm,
As I wondered why I wasn’t good enough for love.
Perfume that fails to go away after fifty washes still makes me shiver,
As simple times with shining sunrises run through my brain,
The beach’s natural scent a consistency,
No matter the distance I travel from her sands,
Her lands of golden seashells and mysterious pearls.
My alarm snaps me back to reality,
So I slide on my jeans and Vans,
Which fail to offer the love of my sweater.
Yet I still wear them,
Allowing them to embrace my skin,
As I go out and make a new memory in this attire.
Rockefeller in Winter
The glow brightens the scarlet on my nose
and the burning in my chest.
It’s impossible to hide in the radiance,
Hands reaching for hands,
My want sticks out like a sore thumb,
Shining and blazing in the city crowds.
Even when the biting cold
of December stings my cheeks,
I can feel the warmth of New York
amongst the flickering lights.
“Death to the sky!”
Cried ants being beaten out by human heels.
Each morning the crows wake me
With cackling cries. I think
At least fifty flock to my room.
Spirals without direction,
Drawn in the earth,
Drawn from the ant’s mind,
Aimless spirals, because what the hell
Were we ever following?
Ants and crows don’t speak
Like humans do.
Humans and humans don’t know each other
Like crows and ants do.
I know the crows are in my head
But they still rip me
From my bed
I wish to cry with ants tonight,
I wish I knew their burden,
I wish they knew mine.
I saw you on my walk today. I was listening to some Christmas song and wishing that the drizzle was snow. You were huddled in a crescent moon on a concrete step; your antennae wilted like the flowers you flew past in favor of stinging my arm. Normally when I see you like this it is early November, not a few days after Thanksgiving. The cold seeped into your small yellow and black striped body, and you grew tired. Was the concrete a pillow in your eyes? Was it a safe resting place? Or did gravity and frigid temperatures yank you down just inches from your hive?
You know, you stung me three times when I was in elementary school, and I hated you. I took every opportunity to step on you and the rest of your species when you were crawling around, wounded. I hated you, yet…there was a heavy sadness knowing that you wouldn’t return home. You wouldn’t continue to fly around and harass everyone on a hot summer day. I’m glad the cold is what took you away, the most natural way of doing things, rather than ripping out your insides and leaving your poison in my body.
I hope the snowfall this season allows for more of your comrades to drift into a cold peace. I hope that people realize you take care of our environment like honey bees, you take care of pests, and you deliver karma to those who need it. I think if you hadn’t stung me, I wouldn’t be thinking about you in this way. Maybe I deserved a little karma, a little wake-up call. I think that wake-up call gave me the room to think about you now with a little more compassion, and I think that’s what I needed. I think that’s what everyone needs. Thank you.