You know the tooth fairy as the mythical creature who leaves money under your pillow in exchange for your lost baby teeth. But do you know the history of the tooth fairy?
The earliest traces of a tooth fairy were found in early Norse and Northern Europeans traditions, written down in the Eddas, Medieval Icelandic literary works. When a child lost their first tooth, they were given a tand-fé or tooth fee. Many superstitions surrounding children’s teeth came to be in the Middle Ages. For example, in England children would burn their baby teeth to spare them from hardships in their next life. For those who didn’t burn their baby teeth, superstition had it that they would search for them in the afterlife for eternity. People also burned teeth because they feared that if witches somehow got their teeth, they’d have complete and total power over them. Meanwhile, the Vikings would buy children’s teeth to bring to battles because in Norse culture children’s teeth and other children’s articles were thought to bring good luck.
It’s hard to tell exactly when the modern view of the Tooth Fairy we know and love came to be. Some date her appearance to 1927, 1962, or 1977, but the first mention of the Tooth Fairy in print was in a Chicago Daily Tribune article in 1908 that mentioned a character who will visit children who’ve put a lost tooth under their pillow, take the tooth, and then leave a little gift in its place.
Other Tooth-Collecting “Fairies”
Today, there are a number of ways people see the Tooth Fairy across the world, with many depicting the figure as a mouse. In Spanish and Hispanic cultures, there is a figure called Ratón Pérez, or Pérez Mouse, that is the equivalent to the American Tooth Fairy, originating in 1894 Madrid. The Italian Tooth Fairy is also depicted as a mouse named Topolino. In France and Belgium the mouse character is called le petite souris or the little mouse. Similarly in parts of Lowland Scotland children believe in a white fairy rat who buys children’s teeth.
Tooth Traditions Across the World
In other places in the world, there are slightly different depictions of a Tooth Fairy figure. For example, in Basque Country they believe in Mari Teilatukoa, or Mary from the roof, who lives in a roof and catches teeth thrown by children. Similarly, in India, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, a child with a lost tooth is supposed to throw the tooth on the roof if it came from the lower jaw and beneath the floor if it came from the upper jaw. They then ask the tooth to be replaced with that of a mouse because mice teeth grow for their entire lives.
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