Friday the 13th is this week! Does that fill you with anxiety and dread? Is Friday the 13th “unlucky?” Do you fear something bad will happen?
If so, you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia — fear of Friday the 13th. The word is a concatenation of the Greek words Paraskevi (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), dekatreis (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”), and phobia (φοβία, meaning “fear”).
A synonym is friggatriskaidekaphobia. Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom “Friday” is named (Frigga’s Day), and triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number thirteen.
“As luck would have it” (to borrow Calvin’s favorite expression), 2012 is a bad year for paraskevidekatriaphobics — there are three Friday the 13th‘s this year instead of the more usual two. Every year has at least one, because any month beginning on Sunday has Friday the 13th. But no year has more than three. Last year 2011 had only one. Three last occurred in 2009 and will next occur in 2015.
This year Friday the 13th falls on January 13, April 13, and July 13. Even worse for those who are spooked by the number 13, those three dates are exactly 13 weeks apart this year — first time it’s happened since 1984, and it won’t happen again till 2040. Three times exactly 13 weeks apart happens only every seventh leap year (every 28 years). A triple occurrence usually happens only every 11 years, so the 2012 and 2015 triple occurrences are unusual. The preceding triples were in 1998, 2009 and the succeeding one will be in 2026.
While some think Friday the 13th is unusual, it’s really not. Our Gregorian calendar repeats every 400 years, and in each cycle, the 13th of a month falls on Friday slightly more than on any other day — 688 times. The least frequent days are Thursday and Saturday at 684 times in 400 years.
In years that have three Friday the 13ths, we also have three Saturday the 14ths, three Sunday the 15ths, three Monday the 16ths, etc. Those years also have three Friday the 6ths, three Friday the 20ths, and three Friday the 27ths. However, nobody is concerned by the equivalent occurrence of all these dates.
Many Americans believe Friday the 13th brings “bad luck.” Estimates of consequences run to a billion dollars due to sick call-ins, travel cancellations, and postponed business decisions and purchases. Automotive tycoon Henry Ford refused to do business on Friday the 13th.
Even presidents are not above superstition. Both Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt were triskaidekaphobics. Both avoided dinner parties with 13 guests, and Roosevelt refused to travel on the 13th.
Good Friday fell on Friday the 13th in 1979, 1990, 2001. The next time it will happen is in 2063. Some think Good Friday the 13th is “good luck”, because then Easter Sunday is on April 15 which gives Americans an extra day to file taxes.
Many sillinesses accompany superstitious fears of 13. For example, hotels and hospitals often have no room #13. Tall buildings often have no 13th floor. Room and floor numbers skip from 12 to 14. What should be obvious is that there is still a 13th room or floor; its label has just been incorrectly assigned as 14.
A friend once warned Mark Twain against attending a dinner party where he was the 13th guest. Later Twain quipped, “It was bad luck. They only had food for 12.”
Paris hosts can hire a quatorzieme. This is a professional 14th guest for parties of 13. FDR used his secretary as a quatorzieme.
Friday the 13th is not the problem. The problem really is the irrational, superstitious fear of the day. But learning to pronounce paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia helps conquer the fear.
Followers of Christ should not ascribe events to luck. It’s an insult to the Almighty who works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Christians should demonstrate attitudes of gratitude (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and faith (Proverbs 3:5-6) and should eschew superstition.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read the sequel:
No Luck At All
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Wednesday April 11, 2012 A.D.
Read my April 2012 newspaper column:
Operation Geronimo and the Resurrection
But as for me, I trust in Thee, O LORD, I say, “Thou art my God.” My times are in Thy hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant. Save me in Thy lovingkindness.