Why Friday the 13th Is So Unlucky

It's Friday the 13th! This can mean only two things: disaster is imminent, or you're going to get yourself a sweet discount tattoo. However you're celebrating—er, observing—this folkloric faux-holiday, you deserve to know why it's so spooky in the first place.

The origins of Friggatriskaidekaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th) are a little muddled, but it's often associated with two ideas: that thirteen is an unlucky number, and that Friday is an unlucky day.

In numerology, the number twelve is favored for its association with completeness: twelves months in a year, twelve hours on a clock, twelve Apostles, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve gods of Olympus, etc. Thirteen, then, is the perversion of this perfect completeness; twelve's a party, thirteen a crowd. Some believe that seating thirteen people at a table will result in the death of one, a superstition inspired by both The Last Supper and an old Norse myth.

But why Friday? Bad end-of-week vibes can be traced back to as early as the 14th century, in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Stock market crashes and other disasters, since the 1800s, have been associated with Black Friday, and many believe it is inauspicious to begin projects, embark on journeys, or release products on––you guessed it!––Friday.

Friggatriskaidekaphobia affects an estimated 17-21 million people in the US, of which many are to scared to travel on planes, go to work, or even get out of bed. Either that, or it's just as good an excuse as any to play hooky.

The best way to celebrate Friday the 13th, that I know of, is to get a $13 tattoo. Many tattoo shops consider the day to be lucky, and will offer themed tattoo specials for those willing to let a tattoo gun near their skin on a day known for freak accidents and unforeseeable catastrophe.

Notable events from the year's first Friday the 13th:

  • January 13, 2012: the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia sank, killing 16 and injuring 64.
  • January 13, 2012: France, Austria, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal and Spain had their credit ratings downgraded by Standard & Poors.
  • Image via Tattoo Artist Magazine