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Where did the tooth fairy come from?

The legend of the tooth fairy is a prized one in our culture. But where did this legend come from? The following article describes the conventions and possible origins of the tooth fairy.

The tooth fairy comes when a child has lost a tooth. Commonly, she is very small, and she comes in the middle of the night. The child is to leave the tooth under his/her pillow, so that the tooth fairy can take it during her visit. Once she has taken the tooth, she leaves monetary reimbursement under the pillow, anything from ten cents to a dollar. (This action is done by a parent.) The teeth are then taken to her tower, and used for her purposes.

Pictures of the tooth fairy have been captured in everything from storybooks to art. The painter Maxfield Parrish is said to have depicted her once in the corner of a painting. Fairies in general are generally considered to be great influences in art, and folklore and legend surround each fairy tale. It is reasonable to think that the tooth fairy legend originated from a place where folklore and legend are tradition, namely, England or Ireland.

Tradition in England holds that if a child’s tooth falls out, that child must drop it into a fire, to avoid having to look for it after death. While this tale is pretty chilling, this may be the origin of the importance of a lost tooth. This tale was handed down during the Middle Ages to smaller children during the teething stage. The addition of fire into the mix may have conjured up images of sorcery.

Early alleged witches were often burned because people believed money appeared after they threw articles into fire. From this tale comes the importance of keeping a tooth. When a witch burned a piece of hair, clothing or teeth from a person, she supposedly obtained power over them. Parents may have scared children into keeping teeth or burning them themselves in order to keep themselves free of demon possession.

Even more interesting is the fact that Vikings had a “tooth fee,” or a fee that was given to children upon the use of a tooth. The teeth were later strung to make jewellery some researchers claim. This old legend is surrounded in mystery. Alongside it is the superstition in early Viking days that children’s articles and pieces contained great power. Having an article of a child, or a child in your possession was supposed to bring power and luck in battle.

Today, this myth is regarded as no more than children’s entertainment. Parents dutifully sneak into rooms at night, bearing gifts for the loss of a tooth. Perhaps it is a reward for a “passing of age.” A lost tooth is one of the first signs of growing up. Perhaps it is felt that a piece of childhood is lost with every dropped tooth. Whatever the case, the tooth fairy lives on, carrying teeth away for uses that no one will ever know.

Genevieve

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