For Friday the 13th, Check Out These Top 13 Italian Superstitions

Thu, 10/31/2013 - 08:00
black cat in italy
A black cat on an Italian street / Photo: Donatella Tandelli via Shutterstock

Ed., October 13, 2023: We're re-sharing this archival article on Friday the 13th, which in some countries is thought of as a day of bad luck. Here in Italy, however, 13 is considered a lucky number.

With Halloween at our doorstep, we look at some popular superstitions around Italy and reveal what the most seriously committed Italians do to ensure good luck and steer free of spooky vibes.

Here are 13 ways to set yourself up for good luck and stave off the bad energy.

1: Know your lucky numbers

Don’t worry about reading a Top 13 list. in some countries, 13 is thought of as an unlucky number, but in Italy 13 is a lucky number.

2: Know your unlucky numbers

You may feel safe now about the number 13 in Italy, but watch out for the number 17 because for Italians it’s an unlucky number.

3: Watch out for black cats

In some places, if a black cat crosses your path it’s considered a sign of good luck. Not so in Italy, where black cats are thought to be a sign of bad luck.

4: Toast with wine over water

...When you are making a toast, that is. In Italy, it’s considered unlucky to fare un brindisi (make a toast) with water. So do as the locals do and make your toast with wine or something sparkling. 

5: Keep hats far from the bed

Wherever you may be hanging your hat (staying) when in Italy, just make sure to never place your hat on any beds. For Italians, putting a hat on a bed is unlucky — perhaps because it is associated with death.

6: Avoid handshake mishaps

Italians greet each other affectionately, usually involving lots of chat, kisses and shaking of hands. But if you’ve ever noticed a group of Italians shuffling around strangely during the process, it’s because it is considered bad luck for arms to cross when shaking someone’s hand. So, steer clear of extending hands across a circle of people being introduced!

7: Limit dinners to a dozen

...or more, but never 13 people, which is considered bad luck. This refers to the fact the there were 13 people at the Last Supper, 12 apostles and Jesus, and it’s said that Judas Iscariot — the one who betrayed Jesus — was the 13th man to take his place at the table.

8: Singles: Steer clear of corners

You managed to not sit down at a table of 13 people in Italy. Congrats! But beware if you are single: If you want to marry one day, you still need to position yourself strategically to avoid bad luck. No, it’s not about who you sit by or might meet; instead, you simply have to avoid the corner of the table. Sitting there is said to quash your chances of marrying.

9: Handle olive oil and salt with care

Whatever you do in Italy, don’t spill any olive oil or salt, which is considered bad luck. The superstition may have its roots in times when both items were expensive and considered luxuries, so the idea that spilling them would bring bad luck may have made people just that bit more careful when handling them.

10: Bachelor or bachelorette? Avoid brooms

Singles also need to be careful when anyone starts cleaning the house. If someone brushes your feet by accident with a broom, you will not get married — a nice excuse to put your feet up.

11: Touch iron, not wood

In some countries, people touch or knock on wood to avoid tempting fate. In Italy, the practice of toccare ferro, or touching iron, serves the same purpose.

12: Respect the power of the pepper 

One way to help ensure good luck comes your way in Italy is to wear a cornicello charm resembling a spicy red pepper. 

13: Give the sign of the horn

If you want to ward off bad luck then you can make le corna, or the sign of the horns. To make the sign, extend your index and little fingers while holding down your middle and ring fingers with your thumb, and point your hand downward. Be careful to point downwards because if you make the sign holding your hand upward, it signifies that someone is a cuckold and you could unwittingly offend them.