A sacrifice is a ritual, in which something is "consumed", i.e. killed, destroyed, eaten or given away. The sacrificed may refer to the giver's person or characteristics, e.g. may a farmer sacrifice cattle, or it may refer to the receiver, i.e. a sacrifice of wine for the god of wine. Or it may refer to a union of the giver and receiver. In all cases the ritual of sacrifice establishes a connection between giver and receiver. That, which is sacrificed, comes to represent both worlds, the present and the supernatural. Source: Gads Religionsleksikon, 1999.
A sacrifice does not need to be a personal offer, but this is often the case in Andersen's oeuvre. Indeed,
Soon the storm would break loose; the ice would be smashed into pieces, and all the people would be drowned! They could not hear me; I wasn't able to get out to them; how could I get them onto land? Then our Lord sent me the idea of setting fire to my bed; it would be better for my house to be burned to the ground than for so many people to meet a miserable death. So I made a light, and saw the red flame leap up! Somehow I got out of the door, but then I fell and lay there, for I could not rise again. But the flames burst out through the window and the roof; the people down below saw it and all ran as fast as they could to help me, the poor old woman they were afraid would be burned; there was not one who didn't come to my aid. I heard them come, but then, too, I heard a sudden roaring in the air, and then a thundering like the shots of heavy cannons; the flood was breaking up the ice, and it was all crumbling to pieces. However, the people had all come off the ice to the trenches, where the sparks were flying about me; I had saved all of them. But I couldn't stand the cold and the fright, and so I came up here to the gates of heaven. Do you think they can be opened to such a wretched old creature as I? I have no little house now by the dike, though I guess that fact will not gain me admission here.
Then the heavenly gates opened, and the Angel bade poor old Margaret to enter. As she crossed the threshold she dropped a straw, one of the straws from the bed she had set afire to save the people on the ice, and lo! it changed into the purest gold – gold that grew and twisted itself into the most beautiful shapes!
"See, this was brought by the poor woman," said the Angel. "Now what do you bring? Yes, I know full well that you have made nothing, not even bricks. If only you could go back and return here with at least one brick, not that it would be good for anything when you had made it, but because anything, the very last thing, if done with a kindly heart, is Something. But you cannot return, and I can do nothing for you."
Then the poor soul, the old woman from the hut by the dike, spoke up for him. "His brother gave me all the bricks and broken pieces I used to build my miserable shack – that was great generosity to a poor old soul like me. Cannot all those bits and pieces, put together, be considered one brick for him? It would be and act of mercy; he needs mercy, and this is the very home of mercy."
"Your brother, he whom you called the humblest," said the Angel, "he whose honest labor seemed to you the lowliest, sends you this heavenly gift. You shall not be turned away, but shall be permitted to stand here outside and consider your manner of life below. But you shall not enter, not before you have done a good deed and thereby accomplished – Something!"
"I could have said that much better," thought the critic, but he didn't say it out loud. And for him that was already – Something!