Everything to Know About the History of Friday the 13th

Forget the Ides of March, it’s Friday the 13th.

The first Friday the 13th of 2020 is upon us. For some, this infamous date is ideal for indulging in scary movies and other spooky activities, while others shun the day, doing as little as possible to avoid the bad luck the legendary date is said to be steeped in.

You are probably familiar with the tongue-twister of a word, triskaidekaphobia, which means the fear of the number 13. The phobia gets its name from the Greek word for the number 13, treiskaideka, and it is estimated that 10% of Americans have a fear of the superstition laden number. The fear of Friday the 13, formally known as the mouthful Paraskevidekatriaphobia, derives its name from paraskevi, which means Friday in the Greek language, and afflicts an estimated 8% of the population. The fear of this ominous date is real, and has been with us since ancient times.

What are the origins of these fears?

Many suggest our cultural aversion to the date has biblical roots. The ill-fated Last Supper, the final meal Jesus had with his disciples, is believed to have occurred on a Thursday and had 13 attendees. The last of the party to arrive, the 13th diner, was Judas who betrayal led to the crucifixion of Jesus the following day, a Friday. Interestingly, Norse mythology also contains the story of a 13 person meal, this one hosted by the mythological god Odin and was disrupted by an unwelcome 13th guest, Loki, the cunning trickster featured in many popular tales. Recorded aversion to the number 13 goes back to 1754 BCE and is found in The Code of Hammurabi. The document, carved into a black stone pillar, is considered one of the earliest comprehensive legal codes and was created by the Babylonian ruler, King Hammurabi. The laws, which governed personal and business transactions, as well as defined the consequences of transgressions, notably omitted number 13 in its list of 282 laws, as 13 was considered an unlucky number, even then.

Friday has its share of superstitions surrounding it as well. Friday is thought to be the day Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, and the day when the Great Flood of Noah’s Ark fame began. Mariners throughout the ages have believed it is unlucky to begin a nautical voyage on a Friday. It is said that those planning their nuptials should avoid Friday, as marrying on that day is supposed to doom the couple to a lifetime of fighting. There is a belief that beginning any new endeavor on a Friday is a recipe for misfortune- there are even superstitions that warn against haircuts on the fateful day.

In 1907, the fear of the number 13 and the cultural wariness of Friday merged to begin the Friday the 13th trepidation we feel today with the release of the novel Friday, the Thirteenth by Thomas Lawson. The book depicts an unscrupulous stockbroker who uses the longstanding fear of the number 13 to cause a panic on Wall Street.

Wildly popular with readers, the novel became a film, further cementing the significance of the date into American culture.

Since then, the belief that Friday the 13th is a sinister date has captured generations of the superstitious. In 1980, the release of the now classic slasher film Friday the 13th, introduced the fear to a whole new audience and ensured the date would be notorious for generations to come.

Today, it appears that the lore that surrounds the date is here to stay. Each year, the calendar guarantees at least 1 of these inauspicious days, in 2020 there are two: in March and November.

Whether you choose the meet the ill-fated date by superstition flouting actions, perhaps petting a black cat while sitting under a ladder, or wiling away the date at home waiting for the day to end, either way you are part of the traditional and lore that have been with us for thousands of years.