How Friday the 13th became a superstitious day

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TAMPA (WFLA) — From walking under ladders to spilling salt, there’s no end to our eerie superstitions. Friday the 13th is among them, but why does that day supposedly bring bad luck?

Either way, the ominous day is here to stay. Every calendar year has one to three Friday the 13ths.

Fearing Friday the 13th—a condition called paraskevidekatriaphobia—dates back some 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. They relied on a dozenal number system based around 12 instead of 10, which is easier to cut into thirds and quarters. The number 13 obviously didn’t divide easily into their calculations.

Not quite so long ago, the Christian mythos described thirteen guests attending the Last Supper on a Friday, the day before the crucifixion. History.com identifies this belief as the common root of a Christian superstition that having 13 guests at a table is a bad omen.

Seeking to remove the stigma surrounding the superstitious day, the Thirteen Club was created in the U.S. in the late 19th-century. A few presidents—including Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt—would meet on Friday the 13th with the specific goal of confronting fears associated with the day.

The club existed until the 1920s, hosting symbolic dinners with 13 candles and 13 courses, and members spilled salt to show the world how little they feared the day. They reached the meal by walking beneath a ladder and a banner reading, “Morituri te salutamus,” meaning “Those of us who are about to die salute you” in Latin.

Although there are a variety of reasons people believe in the doomsday, there isn’t any scientific evidence proving the day is inherently unlucky. Even today, buildings and hotels skip or avoid identifying their 13th floor due to the superstitons. Some airlines skip the 13th row in their plane cabins, too.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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