Where did Friday the 13th superstition come from?

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According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, as many as 21 million people in the United States are estimated to suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia. If this is the case, that means eight percent of Americans are fearful of Friday the 13th.

Not only is it a very old superstition, but experts say that Friday the 13th as a day of bad luck is the most widespread superstition in the United States. Because this Friday happens to be the 13th, you can expect less people will get out of bed and follow their normal routines- seriously. In fact, it’s not just those with paraskevidekatriaphobia who suffer, Friday the 13th means bad news for the economy. A report from National Geographic News estimated that $800 to $900 million is lost in business on this day, as people avoid flying, driving, eating in restaurants, going to work and even getting married.
But despite all of the hoopla, there is no written evidence for Friday the 13th, folklorists say, but several theories have been proposed about the origin of the superstition. One theory says that it is a modern combination of two older superstitions: that 13 is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day. Well, if you’re inclined to be a worrier or pessimist, there are probably countless testimonies to this claim, but here are some that have passed through history.
According to Christian Tradition, thirteen is significant because it is the number of people (Jesus and his 12 disciples) who were present at the Last Supper. Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, which set the stage for the Crucifixion, was the 13th member to arrive. Not to mention, Jesus was crucified on a Friday, giving Christians reason to be wary. Some theologians believe that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden on a Friday, and that the Great Flood began on a Friday. But the Christian perspective is actually only part of the Friday the 13th superstition.
Some say the reputation of the number 13 goes back to ancient Norse culture and mythology when the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the god Loki, who crashed the party of 12, bringing the group to 13. Along with the Last Supper, this story led to one of the most deeply-rooted 13-related beliefs that you should never sit down to a meal in a group of 13, or one will die within the year.
Other traditions say that on Friday the 13th in 1306, King Philip of France arrested the reverend Nights Templar and tortured them, making the occasion as a day of evil, but this claim is said to be a modern-day invention. In British tradition, Friday was the day for public hangings and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose. Even Chaucer referred to Friday as a day of bad luck in the Canterbury Tales, which was during the medieval times of the 14th century.
However, references to Friday and the number 13 being bad luck didn’t show up in Western literature until the mid-17th century and 18th century respectively, and superstitions surrounding the union of Friday and 13 are not nearly as old as most people might think. It may or may not come as a surprise that Friday the 13th is a 20th century phenomenon which, if nothing else, makes for a good movie theme or a source of amusement today.
Most of us are told at a young age that Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck, and thus look for reasons to prove this theory. We’re told never change your bed on Friday or it will bring bad dreams. Okay, so not everyone has heard that one. Have you ever heard that starting a trip on Friday will bring misfortune or that ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck?
Truth be told, there’s bad luck all around us and if we look for it we will find it-no matter what day it is. Perhaps it brings ease to blame bad luck on one particular day, and not our course of fate. But without bursting any bubbles, it’s worth mentioning that some cultures view Friday and/or 13 as being lucky, as in Chinese and Egyptian tradition. In fact, ancient Egyptians viewed life as a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages- 12 in this life and a 13th beyond which was thought to be eternal afterlife. Therefore, the number 13 symbolized a glorious and desirable death.
Whether you think it brings good, bad or no luck at all, the truth is that at least one month in every Gregorian calendar year will have the thirteenth day fall on a Friday. In fact, scientifically, any month that begins on a Sunday will contain a Friday the 13th. For the year 2009, there are back-to-back Friday the 13ths in February and March, and another one will occur in November.
So while there is no written evidence, Friday the 13th remains a strong superstition that bad luck will follow you based on theories and traditions. The superstition of Friday the 13th may not bother you, but you still might find it amusing that theory or not, there have been some recent notable events linked to the concept of Friday the 13th. For instance, on Friday, August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley made landfall in South Florida and on October 13, 2006, the “Friday the 13th Storm” struck Buffalo, New York. A Continental Airlines Flight crashed into a house in Clarence, New York, causing a fire that lasted until Friday, February 13, killing 50. And looking ahead, the asteroid 2004 MN4 will make its close encounter on Friday, April 13, 2029. That’s 20 years from now, but some of you paraskevidekatriaphobias might want to start planning your day accordingly.