Why is Friday the 13th so unlucky?

Some examples of tragic events that happened on the infamous day.

Why is Friday the 13th so unlucky?

Friday the 13th is known for being a day of bad luck and occurs at least once every year. There is even an official diagnosable phobia of the day - called paraskevidekatriaphobia. This may seem like a bit of a mouthful, but is based on the Greek words for Friday (‘paraskevi’), thirteen (‘dekatria’) and of course fear (‘phobia’).

But truthfully, the origins of the superstition are actually quite hard to pin down. Most sources suggest that the fear simply originates from a generic fear of the number 13, and Fridays being considered the unluckiest day of the week. When combined they are assumed to create the unluckiest day of them all.

The fear of the number 13 and Friday separately have been around since biblical times, but the superstition that Friday the 13th’s are unlucky is a fairly recent one.

Why is 13 unlucky?

One of the earliest myths links to one of the oldest legal documents, the Code of Hammurabi. This was proclaimed by the Babylonian king of the same name who reigned from 1792 to 1750 B.C. The code of laws is a collection of 282 rules, and it’s reported that they omitted a 13th law from their list. In reality however, it was simply a clerical error made by one of the earliest translators of the code.

Another common association with 13 and bad luck is the well known Last Supper in the Bible. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, is the 13th guest to arrive at the dinner.

Similarly in ancient Norse lore, at a dinner party in Valhalla, the mischievous god Loki was the 13th guest to arrive. This was the first introduction of evil and turmoil into the world, as his arrival at the dinner party upset the balance of the 12 gods already there.

More recently, the end of the Mayan calendar’s 13th ‘Baktun’ (their cycle of 144,000 days) was feared as the prediction of the 2012 apocalypse.

It is also suggested that a year with 13 full moons instead of 12 would pose problems for the monks in charge of the calendars, as it upset the regular arrangement of church festivals. Roughly a third of years have 13 full moons however, so this was not a rare occurrence.

In the Western world, these fears are still actively in place, as more than 80% of high-rise buildings in the US are reported to not have a 13th floor. Many hotels and hospitals also avoid using the number 13 as a room number, and planes often skip the row 13 when numbering seats.

This fear of 13 does not translate to other cultures. In East and Southeast Asia, the number 4 is considered unlucky, due to the Chinese word for ‘four’ sounding similar to their word for ‘death’.

Why is Friday unlucky?

We have one every week, and to many people working standard job patterns, it is probably their favourite day looking forward to the weekend.

However, for hundreds of years, Friday has been considered the unluckiest day of the week. In the famous “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in the 14th Century, he writes “and on a Friday fell all this mischance”.

But it is more than just a literary reference. In Britain, Friday was known as “Hangman’s Day” because it was usually when people who had been condemned to death would be hanged.

It is said that Eve gave Adam the apple from the Tree of Knowledge on a Friday. It is also said to be the day that Cain killed his brother Abel.

Jesus was also crucified on a Friday (Good Friday), however, some people believe Good Friday to be the luckiest Friday of the year.

Friday the 13th is a fairly new superstition in comparison. In 1907, Thomas William Lawson published his novel “Friday, the Thirteenth” about a New York stockbroker who plays on superstitions about the date to create chaos on Wall Street. In 1980, the horror movie “Friday the 13th” was released and exacerbated the fear of the day.

Is Friday the 13th really unlucky?

Probably not, but there are many famous tragic events that have occurred on this date. According to CNBC, it is estimated that between $700-$800 million are lost every Friday the 13th because people refuse to shop, travel and conduct business. Here are some events that occurred on the unlucky date:

On September 13th, 1940, German forces bombed Buckingham Palace during WWII, hitting both the palace and the chapel while Queen Elizabeth was at the residence.

The unsolved shooting of Tupac Shakur occurred on September 7th, 1996, and he died due to his injuries six days later in hospital, on Friday the 13th.

The murder of Kitty Genovese took place on March 13th, 1964. She was raped and killed by Winston Mosely inside her own apartment building. Allegedly, 38 people heard the attack taking place and none of them called the police. This murder made the term “bystander effect” famous.

The Costa Concordia, the largest passenger ship ever wrecked, sank on January 13th, 2012. It had almost twice as many people on board than the Titanic did. 32 people died and the captain was convicted of manslaughter three years later.

On July 13th, 1951, Kansas was hit with a record breaking amount of rain, damaging over two million acres of land from the flooding. This also caused oil tanks to catch fire and explode, and left passengers stranded on trains for four days.

On October 13th, 1972, Uruguayan Flight 571 was heading towards Chile when it crashed in the Andes. The survivors of the crash were reduced to eating the other dead passengers and making camp in the wreckage of the plane. Rescue efforts were called off after 10 days, however, two men from the flight appeared 72 days later and led authorities to the 16 other survivors that were trapped in the mountains.

On the same day, the Aeroflot 218 flight crashed in Russia while trying to land due to bad weather. All 174 people on board (including the crew) died, and the actual cause of the crash has never been determined. The plane ended up only 3 miles from the runway, and some speculate it may have been struck by lightning. To this day, flights are cheaper if you fly on Friday 13th, as many people refuse to fly then.

While at an airshow, a British 13-year-old supposedly was struck by lightning on Friday the 13th, at 13:13. A man called Bob Renphrey, a bus conductor from Wales reported that he had unlucky events on seven different Friday the 13ths throughout the 1990s. These included falling in a river, crashing a motorcycle, writing off four cars, and accidentally hitting his wife in the face with a stick, and walking through a plate glass door.

Friday the 13th is not exclusive around the world, however. In Spain and Greece, they find Tuesday the 13th unlucky, and Italians believe Friday the 17th to be the unlucky day. In China, April the 4th is considered unluckiest due to their superstition around the number 4 and the date 4/4. In Japan, September the 9th is considered unlucky, as the date is 9/9 and the word nine sounds similar to the Japanese word for torture or suffering. In India, August the 8th (8/8) is considered unlucky as eight is the number of the Hindu god Shani, who is the god of breakups and strife.

It is clear that there are many tragic events surrounding Friday the 13th, especially in the Western world, but it is hard to locate the root cause of the superstition. Just like most superstitions, there is very little evidence to support them. Stay safe this Friday the 13th!

urban legend
Clare Novell
Clare Novell
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Clare Novell

A 22-year-old graduate from the UK. Writing for fun, trying to spend my spare time somewhat productively.

See all posts by Clare Novell