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Italian traditions For Members

Why there's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in Italy

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Why there's nothing unlucky about Friday the 13th in Italy
You're unlikely to see people avoid using the number 13 in Italy. But 17, on the other hand... (Photo by Kind and Curious on Unsplash)

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why this ominous date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

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When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any potentially risky plans. And it's not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you're in Italy, you don't need to worry about it.

There's no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

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Though the 'unlucky 13' concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is the supposedly unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on - so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning 'I have lived': the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck.

Friday probably has a reputation as an unlucky day in Italy for the same reason as elsewhere: in Biblical tradition, the concept of unlucky Fridays comes from the fact that this was believed to be the day on which Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit; the day Cain murdered his brother, Abel; and the day Noah’s ark was needed in the Great Flood. In short, not much good happened on Fridays.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's to do with football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It's a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I've done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean 'I hit the jackpot' or 'that was a stroke of luck!'

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout 'ho fatto tredici' regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with a glass of water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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