Just like crossing paths with a black cat, walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror, many people hold fast to the belief that Friday the 13th brings bad luck. Though it’s uncertain exactly when this particular tradition began, negative superstitions have swirled around the number 13 for centuries. Long considered a harbinger of bad luck, Friday the 13th has inspired not one but two unwieldy terms—paraskavedekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia—that describe fear of this supposedly unlucky day.
The irrational fear of the number 13 has been given a scientific name: “triskaidekaphobia”; and on analogy to this, the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”).
The superstition surrounding this day may have been born in the Middle Ages, originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan, Maundy Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday. While there is evidence of both Friday and the number 13 being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to as especially unlucky in conjunction before the 19th century.
According to biblical tradition, 13 guests attended the Last Supper including Jesus and his 12 apostles (one of whom, Judas, betrayed him). The seating arrangement at the Last Supper is believed to have given rise to a longstanding Christian superstition that having 13 guests at a table was a bad omen—specifically, that it was courting death.
Though Friday’s negative associations are weaker, some have suggested they also have roots in Christian tradition: Just as Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Friday was also said to be the day Eve gave Adam the fateful apple from the Tree of Knowledge, as well as the day Cain killed his brother, Abel.
Another important milestone in the history of the Friday the 13th legend in particular (not just the number 13) occurred in 1907, with the publication of the novel Friday, the Thirteenth written by Thomas William Lawson. The book told the story of a New York City stockbroker who plays on superstitions about the date to create chaos on Wall Street, and make a killing on the market.
The horror movie Friday the 13th, released in 1980, introduced the world to a hockey mask-wearing killer named Jason, and is perhaps the best-known example of the famous superstition in pop culture history. The movie spawned multiple sequels, as well as comic books, novellas, video games, related merchandise and countless terrifying Halloween costumes.
For changing Friday the 13th into a lucky day, you will probably want to serve lucky foods to your guests. You might want to serve hoppin’ john, pork, greens, cabbage, noodles, grapes, pomegranates, cornbread, and cake. You may want to look up on the Internet what kind of good luck these foods represent. You may want to look up good luck charms on the Internet and use some of those items as party favors for your guests. You might also create individualized good luck messages for each of your guests. Ask your guests to discuss superstitions they had heard growing up during dinner.
Make sure that any bad luck you might associate with Friday the 13th is turned into good luck for you and your guests!