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Where did the tooth fairy come from?

It's national Tooth Fairy day today. We believe in the Tooth Fairy at my house, it was always a pleasure to lose a tooth, because you would likely end up with a quarter (or a dollar for a molar) under your pillow the next day in exchange for your tooth.

According to Michael Hingston, the Tooth Fairy is a wholly American creation, an amalgamation of the traditions other cultures, blended together and sparked up with a bit of Disney magic. 

The idea of exchanging a tooth for coins originated in Scandinavia. Vikings paid children for a lost tooth. Teeth were worn on necklaces as good luck charms in battle. While the idea of exchanging a tooth for coins quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe, a fierce, horn-helmeted Viking is far cry from the image of a fairy collecting teeth.

At the core of the Tooth Fairy is a mouse. Perhaps the most widely practiced ritual, one that has been documented everywhere from Russia to New Zealand to Mexico, involves offering the lost tooth as a sacrifice to a mouse or rat, in the hopes that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodent’s, a wish for transference that anthropologists call “sympathetic magic.”

In many countries around the world, children continue to leave teeth out in the hopes that a mouse will come take them away in exchange for money or some other gift. While the tooth fairy as children know her today didn’t make an appearance until the 1900s. In American, a book popularized around 1927 described what is considered to be the modern tooth fairy. The legend was obscure for a while, but with the popularity of Walt Disney’s fairy characters, the tooth fairy gained popularity and quickly became a presence in most households. It’s no coincidence that at the same time the tooth fairy was starting to gain traction in the United States, Disney was also releasing animated films like Pinocchio and Cinderella, each of which features a benevolent, maternal fairy with the power to make wishes come true. Pop culture helped solidify the tooth fairy in the mainstream, and has been a fixture there ever since.

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