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Why are we so scared of Friday the 13th?

13th July 2012

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What are you doing today? Going about your daily business? Perhaps erring on the side of caution and staying inside might be safer...   

Folklorists argue that there’s no written evidence of Friday 13th being an unlucky day prior to the 19th century. In fact, the first mention of it in English was in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossino, who died on the day. In it, Edwards noted how coincidental it was as Rossino had often commented how he found Fridays and the number 13 unlucky.

While Friday’s unlucky reputation stems from the 14th century’s The Canterbury Tales, numerology is at the roots of number 13s, according to historians. 12 is considered the ‘number of completeness’ (hours in the day, months in a year, gods of Olympus, apostles of Jesus), while 13 is instead deemed irregular.

But, contrary to what the believers would tell you, in 2008 the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics reported that they actually see notably fewer incidents, because people are ‘preventatively more careful or just stay at home’. It’s true many are wary, ironically probably lowering their chances of injury or mishap.

How does the superstition affect industries? Last Friday 13th in April, officials at Heathrow reported no drop in bookings, even though plenty are fearful of flying on the day - several airlines have even omitted a row 13 from their seating plan. Design agency Hoet & Hoet were asked to change their stylised ‘b’ tail design made up of 13 balls to 14 for a new Belgian carrier for Brussels Airlines in 2007.

"I'd love to think that people are less willing to fly on Friday the 13th, because it would make tickets cheaper for us non-believers, but I've not noticed that fares fall on such dates," says Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent.

According to Land Registry data from 1999-2011, 32% fewer homes sold on the 13th of the month than any other day and sellers living at number 13 received £6,511, 3%, less when selling their property than those living at a different number. Spooky stuff.

Here are some Friday 13th traditions you may not have heard of...

  • In Somerset, it is said that whoever turns a bed on a Friday turns ships at sea.
  • In Cumberland, babies born on a Friday were laid on the family Bible.
  • Calling a doctor for the first time on a Friday is a certain omen of death.
  • It is considered very unlucky for 13 people to dine together, and the first to rise will reach serious misfortune.
  • Some historians have claimed it was the day on which Eve bit the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and the great flood began, as did the Tower of Babel.

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