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As I’m writing this on Friday the 13th, I was thinking about the slogan “TGIF.”
Today those words are good news. The end of the work week. But once upon a time, “It’s Friday” was among the least auspicious things you could say. Friday was considered completely unlucky. Not only a Friday occurring on the 13th of the month, but any Friday.
Scholars, attempting to trace the origin of this superstition, have cited a number of examples.
The European tradition of executing criminals on Friday dates back to the middle ages. Hangman’s Day, they used to call it.
There are a number of Biblical examples as well. Supposedly Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation on a Friday. Similarly, it is said that the great flood and the fall of the Tower of Babel and the destruction of Solomon’s temple began on a Friday.
While it would seem that Christ’s Friday crucifixion is the most likely origin, anthropologists point out that Friday was once the day of rest for certain primitive tribes, and that those who worked on that day invited the least favorable fortune. Friday superstition has had no trouble attracting believers throughout the centuries.
In various parts of the world, there were those who refused to plant potatoes or go courting, or even cut their fingernails on Friday. Turn a bed on Friday, it’s been said, and the night will be sleepless.
Our ancestors warned one another never to begin anything on a Friday. Not a birth nor a marriage, nor a new profession. Especially a journey. Folks used to be quite reluctant to travel on Fridays, seamen in particular.
For hundreds of years this nonsense was tolerated until at last it tangled with an even more formidable issue, money. It made news at the time. Even an 1891 issue of the Scientific American reported what had happened. The story involved a contemporary ship owner. Frustrated by his inability to find a crew willing to set sail on a Friday, the superstition was costing him and virtually everyone else in the shipping trade a lot of business.
Then one day, the ship owner conceived a way to sabotage Friday phobia. He would add one more ship to his fleet of merchant vessels. He would then sign every contract concerning her construction on a Friday. He would lay her keel on a Friday. He would even employ captain James Friday for her maiden voyage, which was to begin on a Friday and terminate in the East Indies on a Friday.
Naturally, the vessel was christened on a Friday, and after the bravest, least superstitious seamen in all of England were handpicked for her crew, the good ship Friday sailed toward the horizon. In doing so, she had struck a blow for reality and reason.
We don’t fear Friday anymore, in spite of what happened in 1891.
For after the merchant vessel Friday left port on her maiden voyage, she was never heard from again.