The tooth fairy legend is common for American children. Tracing where it might have come from prior to the 1900s is a mixed bag of speculation and forced analogy, but there are definite traces of earlier legends that do have at least some elements of the same magical entity. For those who want to know, here is a line-up of the usual suspects. These are the traditions from which our current tooth fairy may well have emerged.
Irish Leprechauns, Pixies and Fairies
The old Irish traditions of the leprechaun with his pot of gold, or the fairy with her “fairy gold,” yield definite similarities to the generosity of our American tooth fairy. Their penchant for generosity, particularly that of the fairies who repaid human debts two-fold, can easily be seen as precursors to the tooth fairy’s generous payment to children for their no-longer functional teeth.
The Italian Marantega is a legendary figure that gave gifts to children around Christmastime. The Christmas gifts from Marantega were usually exchanged for a tooth left under the pillow or under the bed.
As early as 1887, there was a pair of French traditions involving the placement of a lost tooth under the pillow for an overnight money exchange. One tradition involved the Virgin Mary of Christian tradition making the transaction, and the other was a more average “good fairy” character.
All over the continent there was an age old tradition quite similar to our American tooth fairy, but the benefactor was an animal figure–birds and rodents were quite popular. The lost tooth was to be placed in some location, perhaps behind some furniture or cooking stove, and the good crow or mouse would exchange it, not for money, but for a better tooth. This might seem cheap compared to other legendary benefactors, but then, what would you expect from small animals?
Our tooth fairy may have developed from any or all of these traditions, but she has definitely come to stay. Children love the concept so much that we aren’t likely to escape the clutches of this wonderful little sprite.
And it is certainly good to have a legend such as this to help assuage the fears of young children when they begin losing baby teeth. The legend can make the idea of the dentist more fun, making your trips to the kid’s dentist much more enjoyable.