Observing Friday the 13th During a Pandemic

Today is Friday, August 13, 2021.

For some people this means nothing more than the fact that yesterday was the 12th and tomorrow is the 14th.

For the superstitious among us today means all of the things above in addition to it being an unlucky day all the way around.

I first explored the Friday the 13th phenomena during the before times of 2015. Partly because I was feeling too lazy to come up with a new topic, and partly because it is still relevant today, I figured I would give Friday the 13th another look.

Consider this the surviving Friday the 13th during a global pandemic edition.

While one could argue that the fear of Friday the 13th has about as much scientific backing as people claiming that masks actually cause disease, the simple fact is that Friday the 13th is just a day like any other day.

Each year has at least one Friday the 13th but there can be as many as three in a 365-day span.

For many people a black cat crossing their paths is a sign of bad luck. Were that cat to cross their path on Friday the 13th they might think that it was even worse luck.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2015 when I first wrote about the topic, Friday the 13th occurred in February, March, and November. In 2017 through 2020 there were two Friday the 13ths per year.

In 2021 and 2022, much like the Highlander, there can be only one.

From a strictly scientific perspective Friday the 13th occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday. Simple as that.

Of course, these days it seems nothing is ever really as simple as just following the science for some people.

Hollywood definitely loves to roll out the scary movies on autumnal Friday the 13ths for maximum marketing impact so one would certainly be forgiven if they were unable to purge their memories of thinking that Friday the 13th is something straight outta Tinsel Town and the scary movie craze.

While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.

According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th did not occur until 1913, however, the components that ultimately converged to form it are much older and involve first looking at the two parts that make up Friday the 13th.

Folklore historian Donald Dossey contends that the unlucky nature of the number “13” originated with a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party in Valhalla.

The trickster god Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the 13th guest, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow, which it turns out was the only substance that could kill him. I guess one could say that Höðr kissed him deadly under the mistletoe.

I certainly hope that the myth about Loki bringing 13 back did not spoil any plot lines for the Disney+ series Loki’s Holiday episode next season. As a side note, it really is only a matter of time before a “Baby Yoda” and Loki crossover project takes place.

So, if we trace the unluckiness of the 13th back to Norse gods, and accept the position that in the 19th Century Friday was “Execution Day in America” based on it being the only day of the week that all executions took place, one could see how the convergence of a Friday on the 13th could be consider doubly unlucky.

Of course, the value and mysticism associated with Friday the 13th is strictly a product of the imagination of humans. In particular, American humans since the United States is the only country that appears to celebrate Friday the 13th.

Or, put in Willy Wonka speak when it comes to Friday the 13th, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”

Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own, so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.

In fact, fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

Talk about a great word to roll out on the old Scrabble board.

Now that we know when it was first originated, as well as the scientific name for it, we might as well take a deeper look at why it is that some people ascribe such attention to Friday the 13th.

Personally, I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day. Now, were yesterday Friday the 13th I may have considered it unlucky after cutting a piece of my toe with nail clippers.

Although he could be moody and liked to bite my nose to wake me up each morning, my dearly departed black cat, Lucky, was mostly a sweetheart and was certainly nothing to be superstitious of on Friday the 13th or any other day for that matter.
Photo R. Anderson

However, yesterday was Friday the 12th and just a slip of the clippers versus a cosmically unlucky day causing me to draw my own blood.

I will not alter my activities today, nor will I think that today is any unluckier than any other day.

Certainly, one could argue that we are all living in some sort of extended Friday the 13th unlucky paradigm brought about by the destruction of natural habitat and rising global temperatures that is creating new viruses that are pouring through the global population like an avalanche coming down the mountain, but that is both a column for another day, and a case for Mulder and Scully.

While there are other days to write about havoc humankind unleashes on the planet as a whole, the arrival of Friday the 13th made me think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many players seem to follow.

During my years covering sports at all levels, I have seen more than my share of superstitions play out among the people I have interacted with.

There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.

Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all level of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they cannot go onto the field of battle without.

The tradition of “playoff beards” can be considered another sport superstition that athletes employ.

The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.

Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.

Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.

Throughout my career I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more. To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable superstition I have encountered.

On this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings and if you find yourself short one Argyle sock in the wash, I have a pretty good idea where it might have run off to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic

For the first time in about 100 years the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a health pandemic. While the last pandemic was centered on the Spanish Influenza, this year’s uncomfortable guest at the dinner table is COVID-19.

COVID-19 is like that distant relative that no one really remembers how they are related to, yet can’t wait to get away from each year at the big family gathering. Like that distant relative, COVID-19 also has a way of showing up when least expected.

Depending on one’s political and scientific leanings, they either believe that COVID-19 is something horrible, or they think that it is a myth created by the same people who invented one sentence proverbs inside folded cookies.

No doubt people on both sides of the political COVID-19 spectrum will argue their case until their faces are redder then canned cranberry sauce during Thanksgiving meals together. After all, one of the things people are often thankful about on Thanksgiving is the right to have their own opinions.

As a former Boy Scout I was taught to always be prepared regardless of the situation. As the son of a mother who believes ham is not a Thanksgiving meat, I always keep an emergency ham in the freezer.
Photo R. Anderson

The way those arguments will occur will vary this year. Some people will have large in person gatherings as in years past, others will have smaller gatherings, and others still will have virtual gatherings using video conferencing software.

While there will be plenty of arguments about COVID-19 protocols and government overreach at the dinner tables across the country tomorrow, there will also be people who will spend the holiday alone because their families are either unable to join them, or in some cases because a family member passed away over the course of the year.

While this will not be a typical Thanksgiving for many people, that does not mean that there aren’t things to be thankful for.

One of the biggest things I am thankful for this year is my health, the health of my family and loved ones, as well as the fact that I have a job that thus far has proven to be pandemic proof; which means I have the resources to put food on the table.

The pilgrim narrative of coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution and forming a thriving colony despite odds stacked against them, and huge death tolls, is something many of us were taught in school. The reality of that event differs slightly from the Norman Rockwell meets Thomas Kincaid narrative, but nonetheless people came, they gave thanks at some point, and they stayed.

On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation.
Photo R. Anderson

While Thanksgiving is often portrayed as something coming out of a land of the pilgrim’s pride and unity, it actually became a holiday much, much later during a time of huge division within the United States. On October 3, 1863, in the third fall of the Civil War, President Lincoln christened the Thanksgiving holiday by issuing a proclamation that said:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 was set aside as a time to care for those in strive. Fast forward 157 years, and we are still a divided nation with many people in strive. The current strive does not come from a physical war, but from the economic and medical side effects of a response, or in some cases, lack of response to a health crisis.

Sadly, more and more people each day are losing their health, their jobs, and their ability to put food on the table for their families. It is incomprehensible that the richest nation in the world has so many people with food insecurity who wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so grateful for the various food banks and other organizations that work around the clock to ensure that people are able to provide food for their families. I am also ashamed personally at how little I have helped in that cause despite having been blessed with so many resources myself.

But, while I am grateful for those organizations, I am also angered by the fact that so many people are in a position where they have to utilize those services. In many cases people are having to go to a food bank for the first time in their life.

Ensuring that people have food to eat should not be a political thing. It should not matter whether a person votes blue, red, or purple. We are all the same on the inside and we all require food to survive. The sooner people realize that, the better society will be as a whole.

Years ago when I worked for a weekly newspaper, I had the opportunity to write a feature on a food bank that was set up in an old rice drying silo. Sadly, the food bank burned down a few years ago since rice silos are extremely flammable. While that food bank is gone, there are thousands of organizations across the United States handing out help to those in need, as well as looking for help from those wanting to help those in need.

If watching Hallmark movies nonstop for the past four weeks has taught me anything it is that a) there are only three plots to Hallmark movies that are recycled again and again b) every town needs a gazebo and a decent Christmas tree farm c) no one ever takes anything with them when they move away from their parents’ house since their rooms are basically sealed off as a time capsule for them to return to after their big city boyfriends dump them and d) every one pitches in to help when the town needs them.

While I am certainly glad that the world has more depth then a Hallmark movie, the concept of chipping in and helping each other in tough times is one trait in those movies we should all want to immolate. Another trait being installing hot chocolate stands everywhere.

Although a staple of many Thanksgiving feasts today, it is doubtful that turkey was on the table at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. Instead, fish was likely the protein on the pilgrim’s plates.
Photo R. Anderson

The first settlers in the new world had to rely on themselves and their Native American neighbors in order to make what we now know as the United States of America successful.

Of course, once a beachhead was established and more settlers came, the Native Americans were treated horrifically. Additionally, slavery is another shameful stain on the whole democracy and all men are created equal thing that we all ascribe to as part of the American ideal.

So yes, there are so messed up, horrible examples of Americans being absolutely brutal to each other and those around them dating back to even before there was an America. Those chapters in the history books often get glossed over in favor of the happier narrative. And in the years to come the era of job losses and food insecurity that is happening right now in the middle of a health pandemic may be rewritten to try to put a more positive spin on things, versus showing America once again as the divided along ideological lines, flawed experiment in democracy that it is from time to time.

However, while we are in the middle of this mess, there are people wondering where their next meal will come from and how they will pay bills without a job. Let the historians figure out what lens they want to use at a later date to describe the last four years as well as the four years to come. For now, there is chance for people to act like those larger than life characters the history books teach about, instead of the flawed, divided founding fathers they were in reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is much to be thankful for. There is also much left to do to ensure that everyone has a Thanksgiving to remember, even if that means having to wait 50 days to kick the crazy uncle with those wacky theories out of the house.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to figure out a way to help a food bank.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s Note: For anyone wanting to help out with a food bank, or for anyone needing the services of a food bank, they can visit FeedingAmerica.org for details on food banks in their area.