Who Is the Tooth Fairy?
When you ask a child who the Tooth Fairy is the reply is almost always the same.
The Tooth Fairy is a woman – typically in a blue dress – with wings, a wand and perhaps a bag who sneaks into houses at night to collect the baby teeth from children after they’ve fallen out. She typically will replace them with money or small gifts.
How the Tooth Fairy Originated
The Tooth Fairy as we would recognize her made her first appearance in the very early 1900s.
The Tooth Fairy began as a generalized “good fairy” with a professional specialization. The legend grew slowly in popularity over the following decades, bringing with it a new tradition and rite of passage. In 1927, Esther Watkins Arnold wrote a three-act playlet for children simply called The Tooth Fairy. The first true children’s story written about the Tooth Fairy was published in 1949, written by Lee Rogow (click here to read it). The concept of the Tooth Fairy really began flourishing in the 1950’s and continued onward with an eruption of children’s books, cartoons and jokes, some focusing more on child hygiene and oral health. It was around that time parents started really buying into the mythology as a way of steering their children towards better hygiene, bringing the Tooth Fairy into the modern family life.
The 1980’s brought about the wonderful world of commercialization, giving the Tooth Fairy a face in advertisements, bedding, dental tools and bathroom decorations and even special pillows and boxes. The character development, however, of the Tooth Fairy, is not as extensive as that of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Even the gender of the Tooth Fairy is debated by some. With that ambiguousness, there is a certain freedom with the Tooth Fairy mythos. No religious significance or holiday attachment means the Tooth Fairy can be accepted and recognized by everyone.
Is the Tooth Fairy Multicultural?
The belief in a being who exchanges teeth for gifts spans many different cultures, and is not just held to the American concept.
Spain, France, England, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Venezuela (to name a few) have their own version and tales of a sort of the character. The image of the Tooth Fairy, and her name, vary from country to country. In Spain and most Spanish speaking countries, for instance, instead of a human with wings (the generalized Fairy appearance), they say Ratoncito Perez (a tiny mouse resembling a friend of Disney’s Cinderella) will exchange a lost tooth for a few coins. This little mouse has starred in many Colgate advertisements since the 1980’s in Venezuela, and was featured in his own movie in Argentina. In France, Italy and parts of Germany the Tooth Fairy concept is also portrayed as a mouse or rat.
What Did People Do Before The Tooth Fairy?
In Ancient Norse legends, there wasn’t a being who took the tooth and left a gift, as it was tradition for the parents to give a gift of a “tooth fee” to their child when the first tooth was lost. In early Europe it was tradition to bury baby teeth as they fell out. When the sixth tooth fell out it was custom for the parents to slip money under the child’s pillow at night, but they left the tooth.
In very early Europe – and later again in America – during the times of witches and dark magics baby teeth were burned after they fell out. This of course was to protect the child from being the subject of dark magics in a time when it was thought a witch could use an organic “piece” of a person to cast dark spells against the person.
In Asian cultures, it was tradition for the child to throw the tooth onto the roof of his/her house if the tooth came from the lower jaw, or under the house if it came from the upper jaw. When the child threw the tooth they would exclaim a wish that the tooth be replaced by that of a mouse. The idea being that the teeth of mice grow for the animals whole life. In Japan, the tradition differs, having children throw lower teeth straight up and upper teeth straight down. The theory being that the teeth would therefore grow in straight.
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