With this being the day between Thursday and Saturday — and the day between the 12th and the 14th of the month — our thoughts are with all of the paraskevidekatriaphobics out there. Yes, it’s Friday the 13th, which means that some 21 million Americans, according to some estimates, are hiding under their beds or otherwise spending the day in fear. They are the paraskevidekatriaphobics among us, those who combine ancient human phobias of Friday and the number 13 into one terrifying day.
How powerful is the fear of Friday the 13th? Well, it has spawned 12 slasher movies, a TV show, novels, and comic books designed to prey on our fears. And it has spawned several scientific studies, including one 1993 examination published in the British Medical Journal that found traffic accidents are, indeed, more common on Friday the 13th when compared with average, mundane Fridays. Then again, they’re British; they drive on the wrong side of the road.
The interesting thing about the supposed evil doings that accompany Friday the 13th is that the notion of it being different from any other day is relatively new.
Humans long have had a fear of the number 13 — even before The Last Supper had 13 attendees and eventually led to the crucifixion of Jesus. The number 12 in many ancient cultures symbolized completeness, as reflected in 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 hours on the clock, 12 gods of Olympus, etc. But 13? Well, 13 just kind of mucked things up. If Judas hadn’t been invited to The Last Supper, human history would have been a whole lot different.
One theory says that primitive man could count on 10 fingers and two feet but couldn’t go any higher than 12. But that presupposes that primitive man didn’t have toes or never took off his Nikes, so we aren’t sure we buy that one.
There also are plenty of superstitions surrounding Friday, with some people claiming it was on a Friday that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Another theory postulates that Christ was crucified on a Friday, although the website JesusChrist.com explains that it was on a Wednesday — and who are we to argue with somebody who has the guts to name their site JesusChrist.com?
One story says that the British navy, determined to dispel the myths surrounding the cursed day, built a ship named the H.M.S. Friday, hired Jim Friday to be the captain, and sent her on her maiden voyage on a Friday — and she was never heard from again. Good story. Except that the Brits have never had a ship called the H.M.S. Friday.
Anyway, humans, with their ever-inventive minds, at some point in the past 120 years or so combined Friday and the 13th into one massive conflagration of ill fortune. Except, of course, in Spanish-speaking countries, where Tuesday the 13th is a day of dread. Or in Italy, where Friday the 17th is not to be trifled with.
But just in case you’re in need of reassurance, you can take solace in a study by the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics, which found that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays.” There you have it. If you truly are a paraskevidekatriaphobic, you can simply move to the Netherlands.
Or you can hope that you make it through this day unscathed, then revel in the fact that the next Friday the 13th isn’t until December — exactly 13 weeks from now.