“Um… Crys… I think you mean Friday the 13th” I can already hear many of you whispering under your breath. Funnily enough no, I don’t mean Friday the 13th. I am aware that in the vast majority of Western countries 13 is the unlucky number, and Friday the 13th is an “unlucky” day. In a bizarre twist on the usual superstition, however, Italians believe that 17 is an unlucky number, and therefore Friday the 17th is the day to watch out for. It is also the 17th row that is missing from old Alitalia planes, the number 17 that no one will have on their jerseys, and the number 17 that was retired from Formula 1 after Jules Bianchi crashed his number 17 car and died on… Friday the 17th of July 2015.
Last Friday was a Friday the 17th, and the various Italians I work with mentioned it in some passing, humorous way. This made me think about why, exactly, 17 is “unlucky” in Italian culture. Why 13 is supposedly unlucky is relatively easy, as it stems from Christian mythology. The story goes that there were 13 people at the last supper, and the “13th” person was Judas, who went on to betray Christ. It is also supposed that Jesus died on a Friday, and so Friday the 13th is an especially unlucky day.
Given the origin of this superstition you would think that Italy, a deeply Catholic country and home of the Vatican, would also hold to a superstition of Christian origin. So, I asked myself, is it a Mediterranean thing that predates Christianity? A few questions to my Greek and Spanish colleagues revealed that their cultures too have 13 as the unlucky number. As far as I can tell, Italy is the only country in which 17 takes this special position. So, why is that?
Google here I come.