Friday the 13th 2020: how cyclones, asteroids and a Buckingham Palace bombing have fed the superstition

Hannah Daly
·6 min read
Asteroid reaches the earth - Dieter Spannknebel/Getty Images
Asteroid reaches the earth - Dieter Spannknebel/Getty Images

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 the terror of walking under ladders and breaking mirrors to putting new shoes on a table and finding a lone magpie, we Britons are conscious 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 its origins led to the increase in paranoia? Here is everything you need to know about the unlucky calendar date including the things 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 2020, it falls in March and November. Next year, our bad luck will be kept to a minimum, with just one occurrence in August.

Why is Friday the 13th considered unlucky?

It is uncertain how this calendar date became associated with bad luck, but the number 13 has been considered unlucky for some time.

Friday the 13th was first mentioned in a biography of Gioachino Rossini, an Italian composer, who coincidentally died on Friday, Nov 13, 1868.

Thomas W. Lawson, an American businessman, is believed to have encouraged the superstition, after his book, Friday the Thirteenth, was published in 1907. In the novel, a stockbroker causes panic on Wall Street, blaming it on the unlucky day.

Both Friday and the number 13 have also been linked to several Christian beliefs. Some historians claim biblical events, 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, all took place on a Friday.

Most notably, the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday, 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, with some Christians suggesting that the number of people at the table was evil and encouraged death.

Unlucky events that 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.

Templar knight on his horse ready for battle - Culture Club/Hulton Archive
Templar knight on his horse ready for battle - Culture Club/Hulton Archive

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 Uruguayan Air Force plane crashed in the Andes on Friday, October 13, 1972, with 16 of the 45 passengers being rescued two months later. In order to survive, they had to eat the flesh of dead passengers.

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, September 13, 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, March 13, 2009, but was shut down due to a computer fault. Plus on Friday, January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people. 

Just over four years ago, ISIS organised several terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

It is also rumoured that an asteroid will come within 19,000 miles of the Earth on Friday, April 13, 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 have even gone as far as naming this - Paraskevidekatriaphobia, from the Greek word "Paraskevi", meaning Friday.

Others call the fear Friggatriskaidekaphobia. "Frigg" is the Norse goddess of wisdom, after whom Friday is named.  

Strange superstitions

It's considered unlucky to have 13 people at a table - a superstition upheld by US President Franklin D Roosevelt. He also refused to travel on Friday the 13th, while Winston Churchill apparently refused to sit in row 13 on a plane or at the theatre.

According to old English folklore from the 1800s, couples who get married on a Friday are doomed to a cat and dog life, while some suggest that calling a doctor for the first time on a Friday is a certain omen of death.

Others claim it is unlucky to cut hair and nails on a Friday, and it was once believed that a witches' coven had 13 members.

The impact of Friday the 13th on business

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

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

Some hotels and airports also purposely avoid using the number 13. In fact, CityRealty found that 91 per cent of buildings in New York skip the 13th floor.

Property sales can also fall on the superstitious date. FindaProperty.com discovered that between 2005 and 2012, there were 43 per cent less transactions on Friday the 13th, compared to other Fridays in the month. However, these transactions could run more smoothly, as the staff handling them may have less to get through. 

And, in recent years it the cost of air travel has fallen on the spooky date, with the savings attributed to the fear of flying on this particular day.

Friday the 13th in the media

The superstitious date certainly had an influence on the release of the original 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.

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

In Italy, they consider Friday the 17th to bring bad luck. Similarly in Spain, 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.

Is Friday the 13th really that unlucky? 

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

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

The Hollywood sign, which originally read Hollywoodland, officially arrived on Friday, July 13, 1923. Built to advertise a housing development, it is now one of the world's biggest tourist attractions.

On the same day in 1923, the American Museum of Natural History, discovered the first dinosaur egg fossils in Mongolia.