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Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy

When a child loses a milk tooth in Spain, it’s not a magical fairy that comes to collect it in the night, but a little mouse instead.

Why a mouse called Pérez is Spain’s tooth fairy
In Spain, there's a tooth mouse instead of a tooth fairy. Photo: Robert Owen-Wahl / Pixabay

In countries such as the UK, the US and Australia when kids’ baby teeth fall out, it’s customary for them to put it under their pillow, hoping that a magical fairy will come in the night to take it away. 

The story goes that the fairy wants the tooth for her magic castle, all made out of teeth, and will pay children a reward by leaving a coin or two under the pillow instead. 

But in Spain, there is no fairy or a magic castle, instead, it’s a little mouse called Ratoncito Pérez who comes to collect it instead. Similarly, the mouse will leave a reward for the tooth such as a few coins, some sweets or small gifts. 

Sometimes you will spot toy shops in Spain that have built a tiny house for the Mouse Pérez outside their store. 

How did the story of Ratoncito Pérez come about?

The legend of the Mouse Pérez started out as a character in a story written by Luis Coloma. 

Coloma was commissioned to write the story by Queen María Cristina, for King Alfonso XIII (1886-1941), whom she affectionately called Buby, when he was eight years old and lost one of his milk teeth.

It is said that through the tale, the author wanted to teach the young king about the importance of brotherhood whether a person is rich or poor, good or bad so that he would become a great leader. 

The story goes that Ratoncito Pérez lived in a box of biscuits in a house in Madrid and every night would scour the city for teeth, visiting the homes of children who had recently lost them and leaving a coin under their pillow in exchange. 

READ ALSO: Why do Spanish parents pierce their babies’ ears? 

One night, the mouse meets King Buby when he loses a tooth and together they go on an adventure to meet Pérez’s family and help the poor people around the city. 

The original manuscript of the story was dedicated to D. Alfonso XIII and is dated 1894, but it was not until 1902 when the king was 16 that the story was first published in a book of short stories. 

Another edition was published in 1911, dedicated to the Prince of Asturias D. Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg, King Alfonso XIII’s son. 

Although Ratoncito Pérez is the most well-known character who collects teeth in Spain, there are regional differences too.

In Catalonia there’s also Angelet or the little angel who comes to collect teeth, in the Basque Country there’s Maritxu Teilatukoa, a little ladybird who lives on the roof and comes down to fetch children’s teeth from under their pillows. And in Cantabria, there’s a tooth squirrel – L`Esquilu de los dientis

The concept of a little mouse who comes for kids’ teeth is in fact not so strange because in many other countries, it’s also a mouse and not a fairy that arrives in the middle of the night too. 

In France, parts of Belgium and Switzerland and some countries in Central and South America there’s also a tooth mouse.

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CHRISTMAS

Why Santa Claus comes from Spain, according to the Dutch

Everyone knows that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, right? Wrong - according to the Dutch he comes from Spain. Here's why.

Why Santa Claus comes from Spain, according to the Dutch

You might believe that it’s common knowledge that Santa lives in the North Pole and delivers his gifts in one night with the help of a sleigh and magic, flying reindeer.

In the Netherlands however, it’s a different story. Children there believe that Santa Claus or rather Sinterklaas as he’s called comes from Spain and arrives to bring presents to Dutch children on his boat.

It’s a very different picture from cosy toy workshops in the snow and Santa sitting in front of a roaring fire. In the Dutch version, Sinterklaas is living it up in sunny Alicante, or Madrid as some people believe, and sails the open waves. 

According to the legend, Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain around two weeks before December 5th. His arrival is typically celebrated across cities with big parades, similar to Spain’s Three Kings’ parades on January 5th.

READ ALSO: Why Spain loves the Three Kings more than Santa

It is said he rides over the Dutch rooftops at night on his white horse, giving gifts to children who have put their shoes out in anticipation. Then on the night of December 5th, he brings sacks filled with presents for the whole family.

Sinterklaas is based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas (270–343), A Greek bishop from Myra. Photo: Remko de Waal/AFP
 

But why do the Dutch believe he comes from Spain?

There are various theories about the original Saint Nicholas. Some historians believe he was a Bishop of Myra or Mira in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, during the first half of the fourth century.

It’s said he died on December 6th and his remains were enshrined there, but then later in 1087 his body was stolen by Italian sailors and transferred to Bari in Italy.

There, he became even more popular and pilgrims from all over the world travelled to pay their respects and he started to become known as the Bishop of Bari instead. Today, his tomb can still be found in the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari.

At the time, this part of southern Italy belonged to the Spanish Hapsburgs and later the Spanish Kingdom of Naples, which is why it is thought that Dutch legend associates him with being from Spain.  

Another theory is that Spanish sailors arriving in the Netherlands brought the legend of Saint Nicholas with them to prepare them for the special celebrations on December 5th.

During the late Middle Ages, people began celebrating Saint Nicholas on the anniversary of his death and he became known as the patron saint of children. At some point during this time, the celebrations also changed to the night of December 5th instead of the 6th.

18th century artwork and poem referring to St Nicholas’s travels between “Amsterdam and Spain”. Image: Alexander Anderson (1775-1870), verse by John Pintard (1759-1844), New York Historical Society/Wikipedia

Evolution of the legend

After the Protestant Reformation (1517-1600), many European countries stopped celebrating Saint Nicholas and forgot all about him, but not in the Netherlands. Dutch colonists took the tradition with them when they moved to America in the 17th century, where he became known as Santa Claus instead of Sinterklaas.

Over the years, this somehow got mixed up with the Scandinavian legends of the Norse God Odin with his long white beard, who flew through the night on a magic horse each December during the winter solstice, and how the modern-day stories of Santa Claus or Father Christmas were born. 

But for the Dutch, Sinterklaas is still a bishop from Spain who arrives by boat and brings gifts on December 5th.

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