September 16th – The Festival of the Dental Magpie

Everyone knows that magpies like to steal shiny objects. There’s something about the sparkle that tempts them, makes them want to hoard them in their nests, perhaps as gifts for their significant others. Everyone knows that magpies like to steal shiny objects, even though they don’t. There’s absolutely no evidence that magpies exhibit this sort of behaviour. There aren’t even any recorded instances in history, no outlying events where one of these birds picked up a necklace by mistake or under the influence of some unknown stress. Folklore is folklore, and when it comes to the truth, most Buentoillitants aren’t particularly interested.

It’s probably from this widely held belief that the Dental Magpie, or Tooth Bird, as it is also known, spawned. This mythological, and seemingly immortal, creature is uninterested in jewellery or keys or aluminium foil, but is instead obsessed with one thing – (you guessed it) children’s teeth. It’s apparently been around for hundreds of years, collecting these little discarded gnashers on this night only, when it is let out of its cage by its owner, Death itself. It’s said that from their milk teeth, Death will be able to discern when a person will die, and will therefore be there to sever the link between their spirit and body at the correct point.

It’s customary for children to sleep with their windows a crack open today, their removed teeth arranged on the sill neatly, or perhaps placed in a small bag to make them easier to carry away. Some children even make little perches, next to some sunflower seeds or a bowl of milk, the Dental Magpie’s favourite drink, as a welcoming gesture. Some try to stay up all night, to catch the Tooth Bird in the act, but as is the way with that sort of endeavour, they rarely if ever succeed. Apparently the Magpie is very fast – it has to be, to get all the teeth from all the children of Buentoille in one night.

In the day, before these stakeouts, at the Children’s Union Headquarters, there will be several debates, or Important Arguments, as the children call them, about whether or not the Magpie is real. There are spirited arguments on both sides, with some bringing sworn statements from their parents, or their favourite books on the subject, as their evidence. Some children with a greater grasp of biology and natural sciences might point out that a magpie cannot live so long, or move so fast. Others say that because the bird is owned by Death, it presumably cannot die. There is never any consensus reached, no matter how long they argue.

Of course, the most exciting part for any children who left their teeth, collected yearlong, out for the Magpie, are the gifts they receive in return. This usually consists of a few coins, or sweets, or even pieces of liquorish root in some instances. Whatever they get it certainly seems like a good deal for a piece of themselves they no longer need, yet some are unsatisfied with perceived differences in reward between children, and several tooth strikes have been instigated where children have withheld their end of the deal, or given smaller quantities of teeth, in the hopes of getting a more equitable deal the next time around. This ‘industrial action’ is usually accompanied by a short letter explaining the decision, occasionally with a list of demands.

However, these strategies seem to have had little effect, although the more equitable distribution of wealth in the City post-Revolution has probably levelled out the payments given to children. The most common response to a ‘tooth strike’ seems to be the delivery of a single piece of their least favourite vegetable the following year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Bubble Day
  • The Festival of the Uncouth Steward
  • The Cat in the Box Festival