Friday the 13th: The Origins of the Most Feared Day on the Calendar

Do you suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, or more specifically, paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday, the 13th? If the answer is yes, than like millions of other people around the world, Friday, the 13th is the most unwelcome date on your calendar.  Even if you consider yourself above believing in silly superstitions, it’s hard not to fall for the hype surrounding the infamous day. 

Though the number 13 has always been unlucky – buildings often skip marking the 13th floor and many cities do not have a 13th street or avenue – there is little record of what makes the day Friday the 13th particularly ominous. The first written documentation referencing it as a bad omen appeared in the 19th century biography of Italian composer, Gioachino Rossini, which declared that “like so many Italians, [Rossini] regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that one Friday 13th of November he died.”

While the number 12 is supposed to represent wholeness – 12 months in a year, 12 gods in Olympus, 12 signs in the zodiac – the number 13 is seen as irregular and an anomaly.  Additionally, there are many historical references to the number 13 as being a sign of bad things to come, particularly within the Bible. Consider the story of the 13th disciple at the Last Supper – the one who ultimately betrayed Jesus – and it becomes clear why this number sticks out from the rest.

Fridays first got their bad rep from the classic Canterbury Tales, as well as during the Crusades when King Philip IV raided the homes of thousands of Templar knights and charged accused them of blasphemy, heresy, and many other crimes. Coupled with more recent historical catastrophes like Black Friday, the day remains notorious.

Despite scientific advances that have disproved many superstitions (dropping an umbrella does not mean someone will get murdered, right?), fear of Friday the 13th is one that most people cannot seem to shake. People are so afraid of what might happen, they use old wives tales to ward off bad luck.

Nonetheless, there is the argument that you make your own luck; or, one man’s bad luck is another man’s good. So, if a bird poops on your head, before you consider it your worst day ever, remember that it could just be a sign of good things to come.