Friday the 13th 2019: How cyclones, asteroids and a Buckingham Palace bombing have fed the superstition

Hannah Daly
It is rumoured that an asteroid will come within 22,000 miles of the Earth on Friday the 13th in April, 2029. - Getty Images Fee

Friday the 13th, the supposedly unluckiest day of the year, is slowly creeping up on us, with many Britons fearing what the day entails.

From walking under ladders and breaking mirrors to putting new shoes on a table and finding a lone magpie, we Britons are aware of several eerie superstitions and in recent years, Friday the 13th has become a superstition in itself.

But why is the day thought to bring bad luck and how have the origins led to the increase in paranoia? Here is everything you need to know about the unlucky calendar date including what to avoid and the perks you can enjoy if you're willing to take a risk.

How often does Friday the 13th occur each year?

Friday the 13th occurs at least once a year but no more than three times a year. In 2019, the unlucky date will occur twice, in September and December, while in 2020, it falls in March and November. 

Where does Friday the 13th originate from?

It is uncertain how this key date became associated with bad luck, but the number 13 has been considered unlucky for some time – possibly as far back as the Middle Ages.

The day was first mentioned in English in a biography of Gioachino Rossini, an Italian composer, who died on Friday, 13, November, 1868.

Thomas W. Lawson, an American businessman is also believed to have prolonged the superstition after his book, Friday the Thirteenth, was published in 1907. In the novel, an unscrupulous stock broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic. 

It may even have biblical origins: the Bible outlines the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday, which was attended by Jesus and his 12 apostles, including Judas, who betrayed him.

The day after the 13 guests attended the supper was Good Friday, Jesus’s crucifixion. As part of a Christian superstition, some believe the seating arrangement at the Last Supper was evil and encouraged death.

According to some historians, other religious events have also taken place on this date including the story of Adam and Eve, the great flood during the time of Noah and the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel.

What bad events have happened on Friday the 13th?

One of the earliest events associated with Friday the 13th dates back to October, 1307, where officers of King Philip IV of France imprisoned and later executed hundreds of the Knights Templar, a religious, military group who sought to defend the Holy Land.

Hundreds of the Knights Templar were executed on a Friday the 13th Credit: Culture Club

Since then, the Second World War bombing of Buckingham Palace by German forces in September, 1940 and the Bangladesh cyclone in November, 1970, which killed 300,000 people both occurred on Friday the 13th.

A Chilean Air force plane ‘disappeared’ in the Andes on Friday 13 October 1972, with 16 survivors turning up two months later. They had been forced to eat dead passengers in order to survive.

In 1976, New Yorker Daz Baxter was apparently so afraid of Friday the 13th he decided the safest place to stay was his bed. Mr Baxter was killed when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day.

Rapper Tupac Shakur died of his wounds on Friday 13 September 1996, six days after being shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting.

More recently, the £13.5 million SAW ride at Thorpe Park, Chertsey, was scheduled to open on Friday 13, March 2009, but was shut down due to a computer fault. Plus on Friday 13, January 2012, the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off the coast of Italy, killing 30 people. 

Nearly four years ago, ISIS organised seven simultaneous terror attacks in Paris on Friday 13, November 2015, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

It is also rumoured that an asteroid will come within 22,000 miles of the Earth on Friday the 13th in April, 2029. A coincidence?

Do people really fear this superstitious day?

If you find yourself worrying about Friday the 13th approaching, you are not alone. Experts have found the fear of Friday the 13th is widespread and psychologists have even gone as far as naming this fear -  Paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek word Paraskevi, meaning Friday.

Dr Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh says that it is the belief in the Friday 13th superstition that could, in fact, prove the greatest risk to the average person.

She said: "If people believe in the superstition of Friday the 13th then they believe they are in greater danger on that day. As a result they may be more anxious and distracted and this could lead to accidents. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

"It is like telling someone they are cursed. If they believe they are then they will worry, their blood pressure will go up and they put themselves at risk."

Strange superstitions

In Somerset, it is said that whoever turns a bed on a Friday turns ships at sea. In Cumbria, babies born on a Friday were laid on the family Bible. In some areas, calling a doctor for the first time on a Friday is a certain omen of death.

Cutting hair and nails on a Friday is a certain path to misfortune, and many couples will refrain from marrying on a Friday.

It's also considered very unlucky for thirteen people to dine together, and it's believed that the first to rise will reach serious misfortune – a superstition upheld by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also refused to travel on Friday the 13th. Apparently, Winston Churchill refused to sit in row 13 on a plane or at the theatre.

The influence of Friday the 13th on business

The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, North Carolina, found that between $700 and $800 million is lost every Friday the 13th due to people refusing to travel, make large purchases or operate their businesses as normal.

On Friday 13, October, 1989, a day that was later dubbed as Black Friday, the $6.75 billion buyout deal for United Airlines’ parent company led to the crash of global markets.

Some hotels and airports also purposely avoid using the number 13, while an analysis conducted by CityRealty found that fewer than five per cent of mid-rise and high-rise residential condo buildings in Manhattan, New York and Brooklyn, New York have a 13th floor.

According to old English folklore from the 1800s, couples who get married on a Friday are doomed to a cat and dog life. This old belief combined with the widespread fear of the unluckiest day of the year has meant booking a wedding on Friday the 13th can be cheaper for couples.

It is not just weddings that become unpopular on this superstitious date, property sales and transactions also tend to fall. FindaProperty.com discovered that between 2005 and 2012, there were 43 per cent less transactions on Friday the 13th compared to the other Fridays in the month.

And, over the past few years it has emerged that the cost of air travel does indeed fall on the spooky date that comes round once or twice a year – with the savings attributed to a collective fear of flying on “the unluckiest day of the year”.

Are there any countries that don’t consider Friday the 13th to be unlucky?

In Italy, the number 13 is believed to be a lucky number and they consider Friday the 17th to bring bad luck. Similarly in Greece, Friday the 13th isn’t feared but instead, Tuesday the 13th is seen as an unlucky date.

In China, the number four is considered to be unlucky as in Chinese, it is nearly pronounced the same as the word death.

The influence of Friday the 13th on the media

The superstitious date certainly had an influence on the release of the horror movie, Friday the 13th in 1980. It is one of the most popular superstition films in history, with its success leading to further films, a television series, several books and popular merchandise.

The unluckiest day of the year has also become a significant social media trend, with many online users discussing their fears or adding humour to the day by using #Fridaythe13th.

Is Friday the 13th really that unlucky? 

What about the good things that have happened on this inauspicious date? Here are a few things worth remembering.

After every Friday 13th, comes a Saturday 14th, which can only mean one thing: the weekend is upon us. 

The first nudist colony was founded in the UK: Britons were allowed to let it all hang out when the North Devon Club in Metherell opened on Friday 13 June, 1930. 

Plus, Hollywood officially arrived on a Friday 13th. The Hollywood sign – which originally read HOLLYWOODLAND – was unveiled on Friday 13 July, 1923. It was built to advertise a housing development, but has since become one of the world's biggest tourist attractions.