Every once in a while, the 13th day of a Gregorian monthly calendar falls on a Friday – and unsettling things happen (or at least, we anticipate they’ll happen).
Airline travel is less popular on a Friday the 13th – a date that happens at least once a year and up to three times a year – and some people take great precautions to avoid booking any important events on this date (weddings, for example) in fear that this day will bring bad luck.
But how did this superstition come to play such a significant role in western society? Friday the 13th combines the West’s mistrust of both the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) and the belief that Friday is loaded with Christian religious significance as a day of misfortune (Friday was the day Jesus is said to have been crucified). Consider also that our calendar favours the number 12 (12 months a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 hours in a day, etc.) and that 13 stretches us into somewhat of a numerical twilight zone beyond this cadence (many buildings in North America, for example, don’t have an officially-marked 13th floor).
But while there are some superstitious associations with Friday the 13th that date far back, most such references are rooted in the 20th century; The New York Times publicly acknowledged superstitions of the date in 1908, and the Friday the 13th movies layered onto the phenomenon some eight decades later.
Worldwide though, not everyone universally fears the number 13 (in some East Asian countries, it’s the number 4 that’s considered unlucky). So why do we hinge our beliefs to seemingly-unconnected artefacts, symbols and rituals? It comes down to our desire to control our life outcomes, and managing our anxiety that, really, we can’t.
But take solace. Some research does suggest that it comes down to our perspective; whether we believe the date to be lucky or unlucky, we’ll be right.