Christmas time is upon us once again and as it is me, I tend to be reflective.
There is a very sad side to Christmas for me – having to deal with the grief of getting to another Christmas without my two eldest daughters. That sadness, but also just being a mother in general means that any story of anything happening to any child makes me feel physically sick.
A few years ago, I first came across the story The Little Match Girl by renowned children’s author Hans Christian Anderson. It tells the story of a destitute and neglected child trying to sell matches to uninterested and often cruel passers-by in the depths of a cold New Year’s Eve night. They see her as a menace, trying to pedal, but what they as a societal group fail horribly to see is the fact that a small child without shoes in the thick snow, is desperate and needs taking care of.
They think of themselves and ignore the obviously in-need little girl.
Unable to return home without selling any matches for fear of violence from her father, the little girl finds a corner between two buildings and sits down – now in the throes of hypothermia.
As she slowly begins to die from the cold, she lights the unsold matches and in their light, experiences vivid visions of Christmas feasts and decorations, the of which she could of only dreamt of.
Finally, she has a vision of her grandmother, the only person who ever cared about her. To keep the vision going, she lights the rest of the matches, just so she could experience love and tenderness once again.
Her grandmother stays with her until she passes away and takes her off up to heaven in her arms – safe and warm and loved at last.
The poor little girl is found the next day, frozen to death with a smile fixed on her little face.
I had to stop typing that several times because it made me cry. It hurts my heart to even think about that story, let alone recount it.
The idea of a child being in that position and being ignored and allowed to die is absolutely abhorrent to me.
Despite being written in the 1840’s – this kind of self-absorbed behaviour by society happens to this day. We ignore the very image of destitution and suffering because it is inconvenient to do so. There is suffering going on everywhere around us in every country and yet, we turn a blind eye and just focus on ourselves too many times.
We have millions living in poverty in the UK, but we ignore them and their desperate lives by lulling ourselves with false stories to mollify any pang of conscience we get.
There are children suffering now. There are children in hostels, refugee camps and wandering the streets having been turned out of their home, accused of “witch craft”.
The fact a story from the Victorian era concerning child-suffering and the moral ignorance of society still being so pertinent is frightening and shocking. How the hell did we become the dominant species on this planet when we can abide the suffering of innocence to such a degree?
I am not saying people are all like this. Some people have even made it their life’s work to rescue children or work in their communities to make things better and I am happy for each and every one of them (an incredible example of this is the work of Anja Ringgren Loven and her charity DINNødhjælp that helps save the children accused of witch-craft in Nigeria). There is however, some sort of gap in society that allows this suffering to even happen in the first place and it needs addressing.
Prayers and thoughts are nice – but they don’t fill empty stomachs and they don’t keep vulnerable people safe and warm. If you want to engage with your morality and sense of common human decency this festive season, then please consider helping in your local community or giving to a charity.
Here are some suggestions: