Here’s a holiday you might not have known existed until the end of this sentence: Today is National Open An Umbrella Indoors Day. For those of us incredibly superstitious folk, even reading that might be a cause for alarm, especially since it also happens to fall on the same day as the dreaded Friday the 13th. While I’ve survived plenty of Friday the 13ths unscathed, I have to say I have always been wary of this umbrella superstition — in fact, I’m still convinced that it was someone opening an umbrella that got Parks and Recreation pulled off the air in the first place. WHAT RECKLESS HUMAN DID THIS TO US ALL?!
Alas, the truth is we will never know for sure whether there is a real correlation between superstitions and the bad luck that supposedly follows them. Science just isn’t equipped to figure out whether or not that black cat crossing your path made you get a D on your history midterm. What we do know is how all of these superstitions began in the first place. In honor of this momentous day of inside umbrella opening, here are some of the most prominent superstitions explained:
Opening an umbrella indoors
There are several theories as to how this superstition came about, but the most popular one dates back to the ancient Egyptians. Back then umbrellas were used to protect nobility from the sun, and to ward off bad spirits. It was considered disrespectful to the God of the Sun to open them in places the sun couldn’t reach. (Apparently the sun god was not so great with FOMO.)
The number 13
Taylor Swift may embrace this number as her down and out favorite, but 10% of the world claims to fear the number 13. Historians theorize that it wasn’t one event that caused this, but a series on them: the number 13 was accidentally omitted from Hammurabi’s Code; the 13th apostle was the traitor Judas; Loki, the most hated Nordic God, showed up uninvited as the 13th guest to a dinner. While we would fangirl through the roof if Tom Hiddleston crashed one of our parties now, back then it was #rude.
As for why Friday the 13th in particular is unlucky, nobody knows exactly when it began. Some people argue it was during the Middle Ages, when people made speculations about it being connected to the Last Supper, but others say that there isn’t any written record proving the superstition’s existence until the 19th Century. Apparently we’re just really good at spontaneously creating things we should be afraid of!
Walking under ladders
This is one superstition that I feel deserves a little less flack, because regardless of where it came from, it is also preventing you from getting your head whacked by a large metal object. But this particular idea originated from people’s belief that the A-frame represented the holy trinity in Christianity, and that walking under the ladder would be blasphemous. Oddly, nobody ever felt this way about tents.
Guys, I broke a mirror when I was five and lived in mortal terror until the day that I graduated sixth grade that sometime in those seven years of bad luck I had it coming. I wasn’t even sure why at the time, but it turns out that the mirror superstition began in ancient Roman times, when people thought that mirrors had the ability to confiscate part of your soul. If it was broken, your soul would be trapped within the mirror. Also mirrors were really freaking expensive back then, so if you broke one you were the literal worst.
Cats were widely celebrated through ancient history, at least until the Middle Ages, when people started associating cats — particularly black cats — with witchcraft. Somehow people got it in their heads that black cats were witches transfigured, which isn’t too far of a cry from Minerva McGonagall, to be fair. There was even a Scottish myth about the Cat Sith, a fairy in the form of a black cat that would steal a dead person’s soul before the gods could claim it (and probably wielded a light saber, with a name like that).
UGH, Judas apparently just had to suck the fun out of everythingggg. Aside from the fact that you probably shouldn’t be recklessly throwing salt around (OUCH if that stuff gets in your eyeballs), Judas was pictured in the last supper next to spilled salt, which he knocked over with his elbow. As a result spilled salt is now associated with treachery, and throwing salt over your shoulder is supposed to blind the devil.
Holding your breath in a graveyard
Can we talk about how STELLAR my lung capacity was as a kid from faithfully observing this superstition on every family car drive? I never knew why we were supposed to do it, but apparently it’s because people used to think you could accidentally inhale a part of a dead person’s soul. Also I guess breathing around dead people is like spooning a giant wad of Nutella into your mouth in front of someone on a diet.
Putting hats on beds
I didn’t know this was a “thing,” but several friends just assured me that a lot of people think that putting a hat on a bed is bad luck. Back when people believed in evil spirits, they assumed that they were the cause of static shocks, which people would often experience when putting a hat down on a blanketed surface.
Knocking on wood
Whenever we mention a piece of bad luck we haven’t encountered in our lives, usually someone says we better “knock on wood,” seemingly to continue preventing whatever the bad thing is. Historians think this came about because in mythology trees and nature were associated with good spirits, and touching them would bring good luck. Eventually this morphed into the British phrase “touch wood,” which eventually was Americanized into the “knock on wood” version we hear today.
Hopefully now that we all know a little bit of the history behind it, we’ll all feel a little bit bolder about honoring this national holiday the way it deserves to be celebrated. I’ve got my umbrella at the ready. WHO’S WITH ME?!