Sometimes Italian superstitions mirror those found in the States, other times they offer a completely different perspective. Superstitions themselves and the question of good and bad fortune are found around the world and are typically a result of historic events or beliefs steeped in tradition (and we all know how much Italians love tradition!). This blog highlights a few of the most common Italian superstitions for your Friday the 13th.
In Italian culture, the unlucky number is 17. This makes Friday the 17th particularly unlucky according to local folklore. Why exactly? Because it brings together two unlucky elements: Friday and 17. Friday, because it is the day remembered for the death of Jesus in the Catholic tradition, which was Venerdì Santo. The number 17 because…well that history goes back to ancient Greece and beyond. One thing’s for sure that today, Friday the 13th, is just another Friday for your Italian friends.
What does a bull have to do with it?
In Florence, if you look up at the Duomo, you can enjoy a brief scavenger hunt looking for the sculpted face of a bull. Why is it there? Well, local legend has it that when the Duomo was constructed, one of the artists had an affair with the wife of a shop owner across the street. When the shop owner pressed charges, the artist made a mockery of him by designing the sculpture of the bull’s head to look forever toward the man’s shop.
What does a bull have to do with it? Well, in Italian the phrase “fare le corna” has two meanings. The first is when using the gesture symbolizing the bull’s horn or stating “facciamo le corna” against bad luck (the same way one might knock on wood). The second is an insult that indicates cheating (adultery or being unfaithful).
So, if you use the phrase or the gesture, use it carefully. However, it is definitely safe to circle the Duomo and find the notorious, revengeful bull!
Those pearls look pretty!
If you love jewelry, it is important to know that you should never gift pearls to your Italian friend, family member, or romantic partner! Giving pearls is associated with tears and bad luck so if an Italian wants pearls, they save up and purchase a set themselves.
Knock on wo…iron
An American might say to their friend, “Here’s to hoping it doesn’t rain at the vineyard today” and their friend would naturally respond “knock on wood” before tapping the nearest table or door frame. While this may seem odd to an Italian, it is certainly a gesture they would recognize. If an Italian hopes for good luck, they’ll reach for the nearest iron desk leg or other form of metal to “toccare ferro” or “touch iron”. Why? Today, the reasoning is that it is a strong and supportive material that can hold up your luck rain or shine but traditionally this action goes back to the medieval symbolism of a horseshoe.
They told me to touch the pig
Another particularly Florentine tradition revolves around a statue of a wild boar found beside the Mercato Nuovo in the center of the city. Locals recommend that you touch the nose of the boar for good luck – something that has been done so many times over the years that though the statue has aged, its nose continues to shine!
Just don’t forget to bring your hand sanitizer with you if you choose to seek a little luck these days…