Family Superstitions, Part 2: More Recent Beliefs


We all have family members who hold to superstitions, and, as we saw a few days ago, many of these beliefs go back several centuries.

What’s interesting about superstitions, however, is that many of them come from more recent times.

In this part we’re going to look at some of these, and trace the origins of some of your family superstitions to more recent times than you might have imagined.

Friday 13th
Belief: Friday 13th is a particularly unlucky day, and (in some variations) risky activities should be avoided on it.

Some think this superstition goes back much further, but in fact there is no written evidence for negative beliefs about Friday 13th before the 19th century, and even in the voluminous 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable it does not warrant a mention. Perhaps the most compelling theory is that it simply evolved as an amalgamation of two, existing superstitions.

The first, still very prevalent today, is that 13 is an unlucky number. Traditionally 13 represented irregularity, and reminded some as the Last Supper, and even today there are streets without a ‘number 13’ and hotels without a 13th floor .

The second was the belief that Friday is an unlucky day, a belief that has held since at least the 14th century. ‘Black Friday’ has long been associated with negative events, and it’s been suggested, in Christian scripture and tradition, that Jesus was himself crucified on a Friday.

The Friday 13th fear, then, seems to simply be a blending of these two older traditions, and something that didn’t – so far as we can tell – exist in society a century and a half ago.

Three on a Match
Belief: No three cigarettes should be lit on the same match, or else bad luck will be cast on those who do.

This claim supposedly originated in the First World War, although some claim it came a little earlier, in the Boer War.

The superstition came from the nasty realities of battle. As the story goes, when the first soldier lights a cigarette off the match, an enemy sees it; when the second lights, he takes aim; and by the time the third lights, he fires.

At least that’s one story. Others claim the superstition came even later, being invented by a Swedish tycoon in order to get people to use more matches. Regardless, it was a prevalent superstition until very recently, when smoking rates went down in the West and the use of matches for this purpose went down dramatically too.

Throwing the Bouquet
Belief: When the bride throws the bouquet at a wedding, the one to catch it is next in line for a marriage.

This wedding tradition’s origins is, like many others, shrouded in some mystery. At least one theory claims it to be of relatively modern origin, however.

The story goes that it derived from other wedding superstitions that came before it. In particular, unmarried women were said to take things from the wedding – even parts of the bride’s dress, on occasion! – because of a belief that this would confer luck on them to be the next to wed. The bouquet toss came to replace this belief, and act as a deterrent to it.

More modern superstitions still?
Of course, there are many things we do today that might be considered ‘superstitions’ in some sense. Kicking the TV to make its reception work comes to mind. If you have any modern or more ancient examples from your own family, do share them in the comments below!

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  • Danielle

    April 6, 2011

    When I was younger, you lifted your feet up when you went over railway tracks….