Freaky Friday the 13th

By Ash Pryce

Many people consider Friday the 13th an unlucky day.  There is even a word for those who are afraid of the date- “Paraskevidekatriaphobia”.  Many unfortunate things have happened on that day over the years, including, but not limited to: devastating bush fires in Australia, a mini financial crash on Wall Street in 1989, Germany bombs Buckingham Palace during World War 2 and most disturbing of all in 1986 the Olsen Twins are born on Friday 13th.

So there are many bad things associated with Friday the 13th.  Even today it is not uncommon to hear people refer to it in a negative light and see it as a bringer of bad luck.  But just where do these stories originate?  Why is Friday the 13th, an arbitrary date and date, consider such bad luck?   And have I mentioned “Friday the 13th” too many times in but a few passages?

Why Friday the 13th specifically is considered bad luck has been subject to debate.  Some Christians argue that it was the date Christ was crucified, the start of Noah’s flood or the day Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.  What seems most likely is that Friday the 13th is considered unlucky because it combines two different causes of bad luck- both Friday and the number 13 are considered bad luck in their own right, so the combination of the two must surely be very bad luck.

Allusions to Friday being unlucky were mentioned as far back as Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, however it is not until the Stuart era that it becomes more common, and not until the Victorian where we see fear of Fridays being particularly prevalent.  Some people would not conduct business on the day, or have medical treatment or “bleeding” on a Friday.  Sadly the reason for Friday being unlucky is lost in the midst of time, however it isn’t difficult to take an educated guess as to why it is considered so.  For much of it’s history the Western world has been Christian and according to the Bible Christ was executed on a Friday.  Although we can’t tie in the date of the 13th above, it would make sense that a deeply religious people consider the day their saviour to have crucified to be unlucky.

But what of the number 13?  Bad luck associated with the number 13 crops up in many cultures around the world, but again is quite common in the West.  By the 18th century it was considered bad luck for 13 people to dine together, and that within a year one of them would be dead.  This again relates back to early Christianity.  There were thirteen people at the Last Supper, with the 13th (Judas) going on to betray Jesus.  Again, once we get into the highly superstitious Victorian era, the number 13 has become a generally unlucky number.  Even today the superstition surrounding the number 13 is common.  If this Daily Mail article is to be believed (It is the Daily Mail after all) then hospitals are numbering beds from 1-12, skipping 13 and going onto 14.

But the question is, is Friday the 13th genuinely unlucky?  Well yes and no.  No, because the day itself is no more or less lucky than Thursday 12th.  And yes because to some degree you make your own luck.  People who consider themselves unlucky are more likely to be.  Pessimistic people tend to miss opportunities and experience more bad luck than optimists.  Professor Richard Wiseman has done a lot of research into luck and came to the conclusion that to a large degree people made their own luck by the way they thought.  A lottery winner of £4 Million, for example, considered himself unlucky because he was one of two people to win whereas if he had been solo he would have scooped £8 Million.  As Wiseman says “Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prohesies (sic) via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” 


There is also the problem of confirmation bias.  If something unlucky happens to you on Friday the 13th you may be more likely to remember it and associate it with that date.  This is the same principle as police officers who insist there are more crimes committed under a full moon- though if there are this may be down to their being better light to commit crimes/ get caught and certainly nothing superstitious.

So Friday the 13th is technically unlucky in so far as you create your own luck or bad luck yourself.  The reason Friday the 13th itself is considered unlucky is probably based in Christian mythology – Friday being the day Christ was crucified and 13 being the number of people at the Last Supper.  So the more pessimistic of you may want to stay in doors today (Unless you’re Spanish in which case your unlucky day is Tuesday the 13th)

This entry was posted in Featured, opinion, Scepticism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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