Try avoiding bad luck today by forgetting it's Friday the 13th

The first Friday the 13th of 2017 is today, and two experts talk about the history of the day.

History professor suggests not turning fear of Friday the 13th into self-fulfilling prophecy

Today's the day! Friday, Jan. 13. Only one more Friday the 13th to go this year. (iStock)

You're in luck.

There are only two Friday the 13ths in this calendar year.

The first one is today. 

And Gary Waite, a professor of early modern history at the University of New Brunswick, says there's nothing to be afraid of.

"If people believe that something has negative value, if people believe they're going to experience bad luck on Friday the 13th, it's more likely to happen to them," Waite said. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The next Friday the 13th will be in October.

Started with Good Friday

The Friday the 13th superstition has its roots in the Middle Ages, when Christians believed every Friday was a day of sadness because of the death of Jesus Christ on a Friday, Waite said.

"Friday had a very bad association," he said. Christians "were supposed to be mournful. You couldn't eat meat. You had to fast."

Waite said Good Friday was also a difficult day for Jews living in Europe at that time. They were advised to stay indoors, since Christians blamed them for the death of Jesus.

The number 13

The special meaning given to the number 13 itself also stems from Christianity during that period.

According to Christian beliefs, Jesus and his 12 disciples were sitting at the table during the Last Supper, which was on a Thursday night. He was later arrested and on Friday was crucified.
Gary Waite, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, says Friday the 13th dates back to Christianity in the Middle Ages. (Gary Waite)

"Numbers way, way back had very powerful significance," Waite said. "The number 12 is a very significant number in the Christian faith, so if you add one, that takes away that very positive meaning."

Waite believes the fear of Friday the 13th is a modern creation that has made its way into the 21st century.

Some who fear Friday the 13th may have had their phobia reinforced by Apollo 13, the space mission that was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded, or horror films such as Friday the 13th. In Italy, there are some who trace the fear of Friday the 13th to the death of Gioachino Rossini, an Italian composer, on Friday the 13th in 1868.  

But no one knows for sure, Waite said.

Fear of day is relatively recent

"People only became fearful in the 19th century," he said.

Thomas Fernsler, a retired professor in Delaware, also known as Dr. 13, became fascinated with Friday the 13th about 30 years ago while observing a calendar with three Friday the 13ths.

"It's interesting to see how Friday the 13th affects things like history and politics and the connection it might have with famous and infamous people," he said.  

He draws from examples in history, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was superstitious and would refuse to travel on the 13th of the month.

Died on the 12th

"To me the irony came when he died, Franklin Roosevelt died on the afternoon of Thursday, April 12, 1945," Fernsler said said.  

"It was almost like he was saying, 'I know I'm going on my final journey … here but I'm not leaving on a Friday the 13th.'"

President Herbert Hoover was also superstitious and would not let 13 people dine at his table.

Fidel Castro, Cuba's former president, was born on Friday, Aug. 13, 1926. 

"To me it makes sense," Fernsler said of the meaning attached to Friday the 13th. 

But Friday the 13th is more of a historical superstition than anything else. 

"Friday the 13th has been lucky for me," Fernsler said.