Why is Friday the 13th considered unlucky? The origins of the superstition

 (Shutterstock / Alexey Broslavets)
(Shutterstock / Alexey Broslavets)

Prepare to spend the day avoiding mirrors, ladders, and walking over drains because the unluckiest day of the year is here.

That's right, tomorrow is Friday 13, a day long associated with bad luck and superstition, and perhaps second only in the spooky states after Halloween.

Often fodder for horror films (there are an impressive 12 slasher movies in the Friday the 13th franchise), the day is riddled with creepy goings-on and superstitious behaviour.

Yet it's not just the stuff of Hollywood legend — hotels have often gone to great lengths to remove “room 13s”, while many tall buildings lack a 13th floor and some planes don't have a row 13.

But where does our superstition around this particular date, known as paraskevidekatriaphobia, come from? And why are we so afraid of the number 13?

Here's all you need to know.

Where did the Friday the 13th superstition come from?

The fear of Friday the 13th is so widespread that it’s even cheaper to travel by plane on the date. But the superstition, found mostly in Western culture, has been around since long before air travel was invented.

Thirteen is arguably the most vilified number, and has countless malevolent origins. The most notorious appearance of the number 13 comes from the Bible. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down to the Last Supper. In Norse mythology, a dinner party of the gods was ruined by the 13th guest called Loki, who caused the world to be plunged into darkness.

Friday doesn’t have a good reputation either. Good Friday was the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and, in the UK, Friday was once known as Hangman's Day because it was usually when people who had been condemned to death were hanged.

In Geoffrey Chaucer's famous Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century, he says "and on a Friday fell all this mischance”.

So why Friday the 13th?

Members of the Eccentric Club of London, at their annual Friday the Thirteenth lunch, surrounded by omens of bad luck (E Dean / Topical Press Agency / Getty Imagges)
Members of the Eccentric Club of London, at their annual Friday the Thirteenth lunch, surrounded by omens of bad luck (E Dean / Topical Press Agency / Getty Imagges)

According to folklorists, the combination of Friday and the number 13 as a day of particularly bad luck seems to be a relatively recent tradition - perhaps only about 100 years old.

A possible origin of the superstition can be traced to the publication of Thomas W Lawson's novel Friday, The Thirteenth in 1907, in which a broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a panic on Wall Street.

One of the most popularised myths attempting to explain the origin of the Friday 13 superstition stems from events on Friday, October 13, 1307, when hundreds of Knights Templar were arrested and burned across France.

Many have linked the Knights Templar to the Holy Grail, and their brutal demise has often been used in 20th century literature, such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

The Eccentric Club, one of London's oldest gentleman's clubs, has held special Friday the 13th dinners since the 18th century, seating 13 people at a dinner table surrounded by “unlucky” objects.

Is there any evidence that it is unlucky?

Will you be avoiding mirrors in case they smash this Friday? (Getty)
Will you be avoiding mirrors in case they smash this Friday? (Getty)

In 1993, a British Medical Journal study claimed there was a “significant” increase in incidents on Friday the 13th, but the author of the study later confessed it was “a bit of fun” as traditional in the Christmas edition.

There is anecdotal evidence that unlucky things will happen on Friday the 13th, however. In 1976, New Yorker Daz Baxter was apparently so afraid of Friday the 13th that he decided the safest place to stay was his bed.

Mr Baxter was killed when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day.

Closer to home, in 2009, the £13.5 million SAW ride at Thorpe Park had its opening premiere on Friday 13th, only to be shut down due to a computer-programming fault.

While in 2010, lightning struck a 13-year-old Suffolk boy on Friday 13th at 13:13.

How often does Friday the 13th happen?

At least once a year, and up to three times a year. There was just one Friday the 13th in 2022.

In 2023, the date occurs twice — in January and October.

Spooky stuff. But, for most Brits, Friday the 13th will be just another day.

Or will it..?