Some people find Raymond Briggs' The Snowman a little depressing. My daughter howls uncontrollably when the John Lewis ad with the Bear and the Hare comes on. Well those two ain't got nothing on The Little Match Girl, the bleakest of all Christmas stories.
It's the last day of the old year and the Little Match Girl is on her way home after an unsuccessful day trying to flog fire-sticks. As she tries to avoid being run over by racing carriages the poor wretch loses one of her oversized slippers. Ominously she passes under the scales of blindfolded justice, who is unable to do anything to help the poor girl, who then loses her other slipper to a thieving boy.
Barefoot she struggles on until she collapses against the wall of a great house. To keep warm she strikes the matches. One by one they reveal the luxuries within – a boiler, plump goose and laden Christmas tree. These are her final, tantalising moments. d
Finally her dead grandmother appears, lifting her high above the streets and houses and out of this world of pain.
Now it says in the dust jacket to this 1968 edition, illustrated by Blair Lent, that this book 'speaks plainly to children of sorrow and redemption.' I don't know about that, but it does have a powerful message about how many children still suffer like the match girl every Christmas. And it's for that reason that this unsentimental story retains a special place in the canon of mostly glittering christmas books for children.