A child born on Friday the 13th will be unlucky for life. That’s one of several old wives’ tales regarding the most unpopular date in the western world.
Good thing I’m not an old wife nor was I raised by one. My mother instilled in me the belief that being born on Friday the 13th gave me lifetime immunity to the bad luck associated with the day. Whenever the 13th fell on a Friday, even if it wasn’t in September, she’d remind me, “It’s your lucky day!” And so it has been.
I’ve celebrated my birthday on Friday the 13th eight times, not counting the day of my actual birth and the one coming up in two days. The most recent was in 2013; you can imagine how excited I was that year. I don’t remember any specifics, but it must have been a great day; had there been any catastrophes, I’d certainly recall them, right?
The notion of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day is relatively recent, popularized in the 20th century, but fear of the number 13 dates back many centuries. Some historians attribute the superstition to the Last Supper, attended by Jesus and his 12 disciples. There’s also a Norse legend about 12 gods attending a feast which was crashed by a 13th spirit, Loki, whose mischievous antics led to the death of one of the partygoers. Consequently, another old wives’ tale warns that if 13 people dine at the same table, one will die before the year ends.
In an effort to debunk that superstition, Capt. William Fowler of New York formed a supper club with 12 brave friends. The Thirteen Club met for the first time on Friday, Jan. 13, 1882, and enjoyed a 13-course dinner beneath a banner which read “Morituri te Salutamus” (“Those of us who are about to die salute you”). The following January, at the club’s first annual meeting, the secretary happily reported ” . . . Not a single member is dead or has even had a serious illness. On the contrary, so far as can be learned, the members during the past 12 months have been exceptionally healthy and fortunate.”
Nearly a decade later, author William Harnett Blanch, along with a number of journalists, actors, and artists, founded the London Thirteen Club. Meeting on the 13th of every month, members spilled salt, broke mirrors, turned horseshoes upside down, and defied every other superstition they could think of. According to one British newspaper article, only one member died during his tenure with the club; coincidentally (?) he had neglected to pay his membership dues.
Some say the belief predates even Biblical times, pointing to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, enacted around 1750 B.C. and discovered by archaeologists in 1901. The amazingly well-preserved code consists of 282 laws, yet there is no 13th rule. Personally, I think it’s likely that, in the course of over 3,500 years, part of the original text was lost. But I guess it’s possible that King Hammurabi, like an estimated 17 million to 21 million Americans today, was afflicted by triskaidekaphobia, or the fear of the number 13.
According to some studies, the refusal to fly or dine out on the 13th (Friday or not) costs U.S. businesses up to $900 million annually. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly refused to travel on the 13th of any month and would not sit at a table set for 13.
I’m just as superstitious, but in the opposite direction. Whenever possible, I choose the 13th seat in a theater or the 13th row on an airplane. Thanks to my mom’s influence, I’ve lived my entire life feeling blessed with good fortune just because of my auspicious birthdate. I’ll bet Steve Buschemi, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Margaret Thatcher and others also born on a Friday the 13th feel the same.
Besides, to quote one of my favorite memes, Friday the 13th is still better than Monday the whatever.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.