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The legend of the Tooth Fairy is one of the most popular and iconic childhood stories in the world. Unlike Santa Claus, the tooth fairy will leave children a gift only if they offer one of their baby teeth as an exchange – they don’t necessarily have to be good year round!
The tooth fairy has quite an elusive backstory. The majority of parents around the world do not know where this popular tradition began! Does it have a single origin, now embodied in the magical princess we know and love today? Let’s break down the myth and dig into some of the dainty details of the Tooth Fairy.
The history of some of the world’s most popular childhood figures go back hundreds of years. In fact, Santa Claus can be traced all the way back to the birth of St. Nicholas around 280AD. The Easter Bunny, on the other hand, can be traced back to the 17th century with the arrival of German immigrants on North American soil. The Tooth Fairy, however, was not mentioned until the early 20th century in the Chicago Daily Tribune, when an article touched on the existence of the dainty Fairy in a “Household Hints” column back in September of 1908.
The Tooth Fairy was not popularized until 1927, when children’s author Esther Watkins Arnold wrote a play famously named – The Tooth Fairy.
The Vikings, who pioneered many of the expeditions that lead to the discovery of the new world, seem to have developed something similar to the modern Tooth Fairy as well.
Researching the 13th century Scandinavian myths and poetry, the Norse Eddas, historians were able to transcribe the Viking language and successfully reference something that the Vikings called tand-f é, or tooth fee. In these writings, they described a ritual that took place between the parents and the child, in which the mother would offer a small payment to the child in exchange for its first tooth.
It is believed that many Viking warriors wore their children’s teeth around their necks into battle, as they believed the teeth had magical powers that will protect them in battle and bestow courage in their hearts.
Believe it or not, the majority of baby-tooth traditions around the world are connected to rodents. So much so, that the tooth fairy can be a squirrel, a mouse or a rat, depending on the tradition and the nationality where the story was born. In Belgium and France, the Fairy is, in fact, a mouse that comes to collect not only baby teeth the kids leave out for him, but also morsels of cheese.
On the other hand, the Spanish El Ratoncito Perez was created by an author called Luis Coloma as a Tooth Fairy analog for the king of the Spanish empire, Alfonso XIII in the 19th century. EL Ratoncito Perez is to this day widely recognized in Spanish speaking countries around the world as the real Tooth Fairy.
The Tooth Fairy does remain an elusive modern-day concept, perhaps due to its diverse history and a lack of a unified story that would determine the true nature of the famous dental deity. However, cultural diversity is one of the things that makes for intriguing stories like these, and no matter where it comes from, and no matter the shape it embodies, the Tooth Fairy is, and will remain, one of the most thrilling magical creatures for children around the world.