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French Folklore – La Petite Souris

LanguedocLiving, May 16

Like much of Europe, there’s a tradition of children receiving money or a gift for a milk tooth – “une dent de lait.”

“La petite souris va passer ce soir”, so they saying goes when a child loses a milk tooth.

Where did this tradition come from?

In early Europe, it was a tradition to bury baby teeth that fell out.

In northern Europe, there was also a tradition of tand-fé or tooth fee, which was paid when a child lost its first tooth.

This tradition is recorded in writings as early as the Eddas, which are the earliest written record of Norse and Northern European traditions.

During the Middle Ages, other superstitions arose surrounding children's teeth. In England, for example, children were instructed to burn their baby teeth in order to save the child from hardship in the afterlife. Children who didn't consign their baby teeth to the fire would spend eternity searching for them in the afterlife.

The Vikings paid children for their teeth. In the Norse culture, children's teeth and other articles belonging to children, were said to bring good luck in battle, and Scandinavian warriors hung children's teeth on a string around their necks. Fear of witches was another reason to bury or burn teeth. In medieval Europe, it was thought that if a witch were to get hold of one of your teeth, it could lead to them having total power over you.

So we have long traditions about the importance of proper tooth disposal, and of course equally ancient traditions about fairies. But the two didn't get together for quite a while. There's a tradition from 18th century France of a "tooth mouse," likely based on a fairy tale, La Bonne Petite Souris, in which a fairy changes into a mouse (or perhaps the other way around) to help the good queen defeat the evil king. The mouse hides under a pillow to taunt the king, and punishes him by knocking out all his teeth. Perhaps this was the origin of the tooth fairy, but no one knows for sure.

Watch Géraldine Lepère's video, where she explains the custom, and learn some vocabulary surrounding the tradition.

See more from Géraldine on

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