May 132016

Friday 13th on a calendar

In some parts of the world – not all by any means – Friday 13th is considered an unlucky day. I’ll start with the most sensible fact: no one knows how this superstition arose. When I was a university professor in the United States I could rely on getting a phone call annually from some local, young, eager beaver reporter wanting to write a piece about an upcoming Friday 13th usually opening with the deathlessly original question, “what is the origin of the superstition?” Anyone who knows me knows not to ask such a stupid question unless they have a lot of time on their hands. To begin with, seeking the “origin” of just about any custom is a pointless exercise for all manner of reasons. I’ve written a whole chapter of a book on the subject. You can pin down a few customs to a specific time, date, person, and/or event, but they are rarities. Most common customs come about through a long process of evolution over time with no single origin to point to. The question that has always fascinated me is, “why does a supposed origin matter to you?”

I call one branch of thinking about these things the origin-as-essence school – what something once was, it always will be. Thus, some people refuse to celebrate Halloween because it originated in devil worship (or something like that). What sheer nonsense. Even if it did – which it didn’t – it’s not a devil’s holiday NOW.  Things change. Why do some people think it is bad luck to walk under ladders? Because they do. End of story. I don’t want to hear any rubbish about hangman’s ladders and the like. That’s just made up.


So it is with Friday 13th. The best that studious enquirers can come up with is that the superstition is not documented before the late 19th century. That century has a lot to answer for.  You have to break the custom down into two components: Friday as an unlucky day, and 13 as an unlucky number.  Put them together and you come up with an unlucky combination. Treating certain days as inauspicious has a venerable history in any number of cultures. The ancient Greeks and Romans did it, so did the Inca, Aztec, Babylonians, Chinese, and many others. Which days and what numbers are unlucky varies from place to place. The Chinese consider the number 4 to be unlucky and in Italy Friday 17th is an unlucky day. Superstitions stick and no one knows why. The best I can figure is that there is considerable evidence that humans like to find order where there is none. As a general rule we don’t like disorder or uncertainty.

We can counter that observation by saying that some people revel in disorder, and that a certain amount of uncertainty is a fact of life. Hence, a great many people in the modern world where superstitions about Friday 13th are prevalent, think nothing of it. I don’t (but I do shudder when people open umbrellas indoors – as they do in China all the time in rainy weather).

So what about Friday 13th? The number 13 is pegged as unlucky in many Western cultures. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor and airlines frequently don’t have a 13th row on passenger planes. Why 13? A mystery. Friday is not an especially inauspicious day of the week in general. For many people it is a party day because it is the start of the weekend. In the Catholic tradition for centuries, Friday was a meatless day in commemoration of Friday being the day on which Jesus was crucified.


If you are in the mood you can make up, or believe, any number of fantasies. For example, 13 is unlucky because there were 13 people at the Last Supper (Jesus plus 12 disciples). Or there were traditionally 13 steps to the gallows . . . and so forth. Believe what you want, but don’t count me in.

Some foods are considered unlucky by some people, but these superstitions vary and are of dubious popularity. For example, it is sometimes said that finding a hole in a loaf of bread is unlucky. I’m inclined to agree if it means I get less bread in my slice of breakfast toast.  It’s also a sign of a bad baker. I’m highly skeptical of the notion that some people (never specified) used to believe that the hole signified a coffin and portended a death. Still . . . bread with a hole can be fortuitous in that you can use it to make egg in a hole.


Cut a hole in a slice of bread big enough to hold a whole egg. You can use a cookie cutter, cup, or glass of the right size.


Fry the bread on one side to a golden color, flip it, crack an egg into the hole and continue to fry over moderate heat. The white will cook better if you cover the pan once the cooking of the egg begins. If you are fussy (and careful), you can flip the bread with the egg inside so that the top becomes the bottom for half the cooking process.


I like the yolk to be runny, but the choice is yours. If cutting a hole in bread is a little creepy for you, use a decorative cutter to make it happy.