Attitudes to Friday the thirteenth

Two down, one to go 

Friday13thBack in January we had a Friday the 13th and another in April. July is the last for 2012. Three is the maximum number of days with that date possible in a single year; but every year has at least one.

Of course, you may simply shrug this away as of little interest and of no importance. There are other people, though, who will admit, even if rather sheepishly, that they do harbour a feeling that on those Fridays bad things can happen. On the other hand, some French believe that they’re a moment which can bring good luck.

This contradiction of an ancient superstitious belief seems to have originated a couple of decades ago when the gaming organisation la Française des Jeux, followed later by the PMU, France’s off-course betting system, decided to offer especially tempting financial rewards every vendredi 13. Inevitably, some people got lucky and this set a trend among gamblers. It’s now a day when casinos do very good business.

But what’s so special about Friday and Thirteen?

To reverse the order, the usual explanation is that in ancient times twelve was the perfect number – twelve months, twelve gods on Olympus, twelve signs of the Zodiac and so on – and the following number thirteen was seen as destroying a natural harmony and so as having a negative connotation. This notion of an unlucky number is a remarkable cultural survivor. A few examples: some airlines, including Ryanair – and this on the direct order of its Jesuit-educated boss Michael O’Leary – have no row 13 in their cabins; Heathrow Terminal 5 has no Gate 13; some buildings (the Empire State is a case in point) – have no 13th floor; some hotels have no room 13; in F1 races no car bears that sinister number; and several French rugby players have refused to wear a shirt so marked.

But where does Friday come in – why not Monday or Thursday?

In ancient Rome, Friday acquired a dark reputation as the preferred day for executions (as later in England, by the way) and, especially significant, it was the day of Christ’s crucifixion. The conjunction of a particular day and a particular number has, for some people, a continuing malignant charge. According to one study, 18 million Americans experience real apprehension every time Friday the 13th comes round. They’ve even been given a name by psychiatrists: paraskevidekatriaphobics (that’s just Greek for Friday ten three fearfuls). If that’s you, what can you do about it? Well, living here there’s an easy solution. Oddly, the Italians don’t go for the 13th. For them, il giorno maladetto is Friday the 17th. So this year on April 13th and July 13th just hop over the frontier for 24 hours and nothing bad will happen to you.


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