Very few days in the calendar are able to instil a feeling of dread quite like Friday 13th. Indeed, while some people are able to write the fear off as pure superstition, others are so frightened by the day that they avoid leaving the house, or take extra care when they do so, because they genuinely believe bad things will happen.
The idea of Friday 13th being an unlucky day is seen throughout popular culture and has existed as a superstition for hundreds of years. Below, we take a more detailed look at the origins of the superstition, whether there is any validity to claims of it being an unlucky day and similar superstitions that occur in other cultures around the world.
Why is Friday 13th considered an unlucky Day?
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time that Friday 13th became such a frightening concept to so many people, the number 13 has a long history of being considered unusual, unlucky or an outlier. In fact, triskaidekaphobia is a recognised phobia of the number 13, affecting millions of people globally.
One of the suggestions for why 13 is considered to be different from other numbers is that it follows a number that is often thought of as ‘complete’. For instance, there are 12 hour markers on a clock, 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus and 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, Friday has also had negative connotations for many centuries as well. For example, Jesus was said to have died on a Friday and for many years, certain ceremonies with religious links, including weddings, were not held on Fridays, because it was seen to be a bad omen. It was even seen as bad luck to start a journey on a Friday.
While both Fridays and the number 13 have long histories of being thought of as unlucky or problematic, it is difficult to identify the precise time the two superstitions combined to create the phenomenon of Friday 13th. Nevertheless, it is believed that a general fear of magic and curses during the Middle Ages contributed significantly.
Over the years, there has been some debate about whether more bad things do occur on Friday 13th, compared to other random Fridays. A study carried out in 1993 indicated that hospital admissions in the UK increased on Friday 13th, but a more recent study from 2008 found that there were fewer accidents on Friday 13th than other Fridays.
Popular myths surrounding Friday 13th
In addition to being considered a general day for bad luck, there are a number of more specific myths that have been perpetuated over the years in relation to Friday 13th. Some of the most popular myths are outlined below:
- A child born on Friday 13th will live an unlucky life.
- If you start a long journey on Friday 13th, you will run into trouble.
- Cutting hair or nails on Friday 13th may cause a family member to die.
- Ships that set sail on Friday 13th are doomed.
- If a funeral hearse passes you on Friday 13th, you will be the next to die.
- Calling a doctor on Friday 13th indicates a fatal illness.
The superstition surrounding the number 13 is so strong that some streets do not have a house with the number 13 on the door, while some of the world’s most famous hotels do not have a 13th floor, skipping instead from 12 to 14.
Some scientists have indicated that, in actual fact, the biggest risk factor may be the fear of Friday 13th itself. It has been suggested that simply believing that Friday 13th is unlucky may cause you to behave differently, or trigger a general anxiety, and these factors may then contribute towards accidents or illnesses.
Unlucky dates in other countries around the world
While Friday 13th is widely recognised as a day of bad luck in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, this is not the case everywhere. In fact, many other countries around the world do have similar superstitions, but they simply revolve around a different date or day.
In most Spanish-speaking countries, Tuesday 13th is considered unlucky. Here, the number 13 retains its bad omen, but Tuesday replaces Friday. This is linked to an old Spanish saying, “Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques” (Tuesday, nor get married, nor embark), warning against weddings and travel on this day.
By contrast, Italy recognises Friday as an unlucky day, but sees 13 as being a lucky number. For them, the unluckiest day in the calendar is Friday 17th. It is thought that the link between misfortune and the number 17 comes from its Roman numeral, XVII. This is an anagram of VIXI, which translates to “I have lived”, hinting at death.
Several Asian countries, including China and Korea, view the number 4 with suspicion, as it has an association with death. In these cultures, the 4th of the month is generally perceived as an unlucky day.
Other popular superstitions to be aware of
Despite the fact that Friday 13th is one of the best-known superstitions affecting English-speaking cultures, it is far from the only one. Indeed, you should be aware of each of the following superstitions too, as they all feature in popular culture and are believed by large numbers of people.
- Smashing a mirror leads to seven years of bad luck.
- Walking underneath a ladder will bring you bad luck.
- A black cat crossing your path indicates bad luck.
- If you find a penny on the floor and pick it up, you will receive good luck.
- Crossing your fingers will bring you good luck.
- Opening an umbrella inside the house will bring you bad luck.