13 Facts About Friday the 13th

Stockbyte/iStock via Getty Images
Stockbyte/iStock via Getty Images

There are plenty of superstitions out there, but none have woven themselves into the fabric of our culture quite like Friday the 13th. It's inspired books, songs, and one of the most successful horror movie franchises of all time. But despite giving us anxiety, the origins of this notorious date on the calendar remain largely unknown to most. Where did it start? Does it really stretch back to the 14th century? And how does Loki figure into all of it?

There are a lot of urban legends and half-truths out there, so we're diving a bit deeper into the history of this most terrifying of days with 13 facts about Friday the 13th.

1. The Bible is partly responsible for the phobia surrounding Friday the 13th.

The Last Supper
iStock

Part of superstition surrounding Friday the 13th comes from the Christian Bible. During the Last Supper, there were 13 guests—Jesus and his 12 apostles, one of which, Judas, would eventually betray him. Since then, some have believed in a superstition regarding 13 guests at a dinner table. This slowly extended to be an overall feeling that the number itself was bad luck.

Of course, when Jesus was crucified, it took place on a Friday, leading some to view the day with an anxious eye. Taken separately, both the number 13 and Friday have since made their way into modern superstitions.

2. Loki also played a part in inspiring fear of Friday the 13th.

Guided by Loki, Höðr shoots the mistletoe at Baldr.
Guided by Loki, Höðr shoots the mistletoe at Baldr.
Wilhelm Wägner, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Last Supper is one view on the origins of our fear of 13. Another comes from Norse mythology—more specifically in the form of the trickster god Loki. In those stories, Loki tricked the blind god Höðr into killing his brother Baldr with a dart of mistletoe. Baldr's mother, Frigg, had previously ordered everything in existence to never harm her son, except the mistletoe, which she viewed as incapable of harm.

How does 13 figure into this? Some accounts say Baldr's death took place at a dinner held for 12 gods before it was interrupted by Loki—the 13th (and most unwanted) guest.

3. Some point to the Knights Templar as the source of why people fear Friday the 13th (but it's probably not true).

Jacques de Molay, the 23rd and Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is lead to the stake to burn for heresy in 1314.
Jacques de Molay, the 23rd and Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, is lead to the stake to burn for heresy in 1314.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Contrary to what The Da Vinci Code told you, the reason people fear Friday the 13th isn't because of the Knights Templar. On the very unlucky Friday, October 13, 1307, Philip IV of France had members of the Templar arrested—growing uneasy with their power and covetous of their riches. There were trials, torture, and many of the Knights were burned at the stake, eventually leading to the superstition of Friday the 13th as a cursed and evil day.

That's not quite true, though. This is a take that's been drummed up in recent years, most visibly in Dan Brown's best-selling novel, but in reality, the unlucky combination of Friday and 13 didn't appear until around the turn of the 20th century.

4. A 1907 novel played a big part in creating the superstition.

Panic on 'Black Friday' in the New York Gold Room, 1869.
Three Lions, Getty Images

We know a good deal about the history of our fear of 13 and of Fridays, but combined? Well, that's less clear. One popular thought, though, points to a 1907 book by a stockbroker named Thomas Lawson. Titled Friday, the Thirteenth, it tells the tale of a stockbroker who picks that particular day to manipulate the stock market and bring all of Wall Street down.

The book sold fairly well at the time, moving 28,000 copies in its first week. And it must have struck a chord with early 20th century society, as it's said to have caused a real-life superstition among stockbrokers regarding trading and buying stocks on the 13th. While not the first to combine the dates, Lawson's book is credited with popularizing the notion that Friday the 13th is bad news.

The fear among brokers was so real that in a 1923 New York Times article, it stated that people "would no more buy or sell a share of stock today than they would walk under a ladder or kick a black cat out of their path."

5. Stockbrokers have reason to be nervous on Friday the 13th.

The 1873 rush from the New York Stock Exchange as banks began to fail and close, leading to a 10-day closure of the Stock Exchange.
Three Lions, Getty Images

Lawson's book was pure fiction, but the history of the stock market on Friday the 13th can be either profitable or absolutely terrifying, depending on the month. On most Friday the 13ths, stocks have actually risen—according to Time, they go up about 57 percent of the time, compared to the 52 percent on any other given date. However, if it's a Friday the 13th in October … be warned.

There's an average S&P drop of about 0.5 percent on those unlucky Fridays in October. And on Friday, October 13, 1989, the S&P actually saw a drop of 6.1 percent—to this day, it's still referred to as a "mini crash."

6. Good things happen on Friday the 13th, too!

Hollywood sign on the hill
iStock

On Friday, July 13, 1923, the United States got a brand new landmark as the famed Hollywood sign was officially christened as a promotional tool for a new housing development. But before the sign took on its familiar image, it initially read "Hollywoodland"—the full name of the development that was being built on the hills above Los Angeles. The sign took on its current “Hollywood” look in 1949 when, after two decades of disrepair, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to remove the last four letters and just maintain the first nine.

7. Appropriately, heavy metal music was born on Friday the 13th.

Cover of Black Sabbath album
vinylmeister, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

This one isn't exactly scientific, but don't tell that to a metalhead. According to heavy metal lore, the genre was born Friday, February 13, 1970, with the UK release of Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album. Bands like Steppenwolf had laid the foundation in the years before (Steppenwolf is also credited with coining the term "heavy metal" in their lyrics for 1968's "Born to Be Wild"), but those first dissonant "Devil's Tritone" chords of "Black Sabbath"—yes, the opening track of the album Black Sabbath by the band Black Sabbath was the song "Black Sabbath"—were the true birth of the dark, brooding, rocking subculture. Horns up.

8. There are scientific terms for the phobia.

Friday the 13th on a calendar
iStock

Afraid of Friday the 13th? Well now you can put a name to your phobia. You likely already know the term triskaidekaphobia, which only applies to the fear of the number 13. But for specific fears of Friday the 13th, you can choose between paraskevidekatriaphobia (Paraskevi meaning Friday in Greek) or friggatriskaidekaphobia, based on the word Frigg, the Norse goddess that Friday was named after in English. (Remember, it was her son who Loki had killed …)

9. One Indiana town puts bells on every black cat to ward off bad luck.

Black cat wearing a bell.
Danilo Urbina, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND 2.0

The folks of French Lick, Indiana (Larry Bird's hometown) are apparently a superstitious lot. In the 1930s and extending into the '40s, the town board decreed all black cats in the town were to wear a bell around their neck every Friday the 13th. Apparently, the confluence of two popular phobias was a bit too much for the small Indiana town to handle.

10. Five presidents were part of a club to improve the number's reputation.

old-fashioned formal dinner
iStock

Some people aren't just unaffected by the stigma of 13, they're downright defiant of it. In order to prove that there was no curse on the number, Captain William Fowler—who had fought in 13 Civil War battles—started a club in 1882 that spat in the face of superstition.

Members would meet on the 13th of the month, at 13 past the hour, and sit 13 at a dining table. For some, this behavior was just begging for a hex, but these men didn't care. They sought to disprove the myth and others along with it—open umbrellas lined the dining hall and members would willingly break glass, waiting for a so-called curse to befall them.

This wasn't just a club for eccentrics, either. Five presidents would become honorary members of The Thirteen Club: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, Cleveland would take part while he was in office. In all, it's said that no man was struck down by any particularly curious fate (except perhaps McKinley, who was assassinated), despite having so blatantly tempted it.

11. In Italy, people fear Friday the 17th.

number 17 on a wooden background
iStock

Italy's got the right idea, but they're a few days off. Traditionally, their fear coincides with the number 17, which can be arranged as the sum of the Roman numerals VIXI, which can then, in turn, be translated as the Latin phrase "I have lived." The overall superstition around Friday remains the same—it all has to do with Jesus's crucifixion.

This is no niche phobia, though. As ThoughtCo. points out, there are people who refuse to leave the house or go to work on Friday the 17th out of fear of the ominous date. And the Italian airline Alitalia doesn't even put a row 17 (or a 13) on its planes, as seen on this seat map [PDF].

12. There can't be more than three Friday the 13ths in a given year.

Calendar of 2015 with three Friday the 13ths
Calendar: iStock. Coloring: Mental Floss.

There's some good news if you're one of those people who are genuinely afraid of Friday the 13th: There can't be more than three in any given year, and it's possible to go as many as 14 months without one. There's an easy way to figure out if a month will have a Friday the 13th, too—if the month starts on a Sunday, you're guaranteed one. For 2018, 2019, and 2020, we get a bit of a break, as each year will only have two. This year, only April and July are affected.

13. An asteroid will come relatively close to us on a Friday the 13th in 2029.

asteroid projection image
iStock

Let's just get this out of the way: We'll be fine. An asteroid will not collide with the Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029. We will, however, get a pretty spectacular look at asteroid 99942 Apophis (also known as 2004 MN4), which is about 320 meters wide and would be devastating if it did hit. When the asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers gave it a haunting 1-in-60 chance of colliding with Earth, but extra data has proved that it'll miss us entirely.

"We weren't too worried," Paul Chodas, of NASA's Near Earth Object Program, said, "but the odds were disturbing."

That's not to say the asteroid still won't be a sight to behold: Apophis will cruise past Earth 18,600 miles above ground. "For comparison," NASA wrote on its site, "geosynchronous satellites orbit at 22,300 miles." The asteroid will be mostly visible in parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and another event of this nature may not be seen for another 1000 or so years.

This story has been updated for 2020.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Bizarre Elf Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Elf, the beloved Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell as a human raised at the North Pole who goes to New York City to find his family, is a certified holiday classic. If you’re like a lot of movie fans, you’ve probably already seen the film dozens—if not hundreds—of times. Which means you’ve hand plenty of time to pick apart every detail of the film, and that means internet theorists have as well. Put all of that together and Elf has had plenty of time to live in the realm of the fan theory.

So, as we revisit this Christmas classic, we're taking a look at some intriguing, amusing, and just plain weird Elf fan theories covering everything from Buddy the Elf’s origins to the film's secret sequels.

1. Buddy the Elf Is Actually A Creep.

One of the things that endears Buddy to so many people throughout the film is his innocence and his way of seeing everything in the world of humans with such wonder and excitement. But according to one theory, that may all be a clever ruse. In perhaps the most popular Elf fan theory of all time, Reddit user Batfan54 posits that Buddy’s innocence is actually an act to hide his creepier tendencies. The chief evidence here is the scene in which Buddy walks into the women’s locker room at the department store where Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) is singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in the shower. Buddy joins in, then flees when she screams for him to leave. When Jovie confronts him later, Buddy says “I didn’t know you were naked,” and his childlike innocence seems to win Jovie over. Buddy clearly knows what a shower is, though, as we see him using one at the North Pole earlier in the film. So why does he suddenly play dumb about Jovie being naked? According to this theory, he’s not dumb, he was just trying to get out of trouble after peeping at her in the first place. Shame on you, Buddy.

2. Buddy Is A Secret Mutant Elf Operative.

While some fan theories focus more on Buddy’s social interactions in the human world, others spend time looking at his various physical attributes. Buddy is a human, but his time in the elf world has granted him a number of skills that seem superhuman, including his ability to decorate an entire department store floor overnight, his apparent reliance on just 40 minutes of sleep each night, and his diet of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. Throw in his machine gun speed with snowballs and his often uncanny physical resilience, and something doesn’t add up. The explanation, according to Tibbsy, is that Buddy is actually a mutant created for the specific purpose of being sent to Earth to spread Christmas cheer and save Santa Claus (Ed Asner) from losing all of his believers. Of course, he doesn’t know this, so he thinks he’s a human, but it was a secret elf plot all along.

3. Elf Is A Prequel To Step Brothers.

Columbia/TriStar

There are a handful of theories which attempt to tie Elf into other films—specifically, other films starring Will Ferrell. A few years back, a blogger named Trent over at Barstool Sports was watching Elf as part of his annual Christmas tradition when he had an odd thought: Buddy’s stepmother is played by Mary Steenburgen, who also plays the mother of Brennan, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers. A closer examination reveals that the characters of Buddy and Brennan have a lot in common, from their difficulty dealing with the outside world to their love of animals. So, what if Steenburgen is actually playing the same person in both films, and after Elf she adopted Buddy as her own, changed his name, and remarried? It’s a stretch, but it’s founded on Ferrell’s knack for playing lovable man-children, so once you see it, it’s a little hard to shake.

4. Buddy Is A Hybrid Creature.

Here’s another theory designed as an attempt to explain Buddy’s strange elf behavior, including his candy-based diet, very brief sleep schedule, and superhuman feats of snowball-throwing and travel (remember, he got from the North Pole to New York City on foot without a scratch). We’re told in the film that Buddy is the child of Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and the now-deceased Susan Wells, but what if there’s more to Buddy’s ancestry than we think? What if, somehow, past Christmas elves made their way out into the human world and just started breeding with the human population at some point, if only in a very limited way? Then they might produce some human-elf hybrid creatures with elf-like qualities. If Buddy is the product of this genetic line, it could explain a lot.

5. Miles Finch Is A Con Artist.

A key subplot in Elf involves Walter and his publishing company underlings trying to put together a pitch for a new children’s book by Christmas Eve in order to appease his boss. At one point in the film, his head writers (Andy Richter and Kyle Gass) pitch the idea that they bring in “golden ghost” writer Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage). Finch arrives and, after accepting a hefty cash payment upfront, leaves following an argument in which Buddy assumes he’s not a human little person, but an elf. Finch leaves behind his notebook of ideas, which Walter and company then use to craft a pitch.

Of course, we never get to see this pitch, and Walter leaves the company shortly after to form his own publishing group, so there’s no indication of how successful it was. According to one theory, it was never intended to be a hit, because Finch’s notebook wasn’t where he kept his good ideas. It was a red herring, left behind just so he could pocket the cash and get out of the place without having to do any real work.

6. Elf Is A Prequel To The LEGO Movie.

Another attempt to tie Elf to a different Will Ferrell performance posits that the film is actually a prequel to The LEGO Movie, a film in which Ferrell both voices the evil LEGO character “Lord Business” and plays a father who builds elaborate LEGO sets in his basement and intends to glue them all together to make them permanent, much to the disappointment of his young son.

According to littleblue42, the father in The LEGO Movie is meant to be Buddy, who’s now lost his Christmas spirit after years of life as a parent and publisher in the adult world. To have some sense of order and control, he’s taken to crafting LEGO sets (still a form of toys) and grows frustrated when his son tries to play with them in his own way. The father’s ultimate realization that he’s being too strict with his LEGOs is meant to represent Buddy rediscovering his old Christmas spirit. Is it a stretch? Maybe. But you’ll think of The LEGO Movie differently the next time you watch it.

7. Buddy Caused Santa’s Sleigh To Crash.

    This theory focuses more on the inner-workings of the film than any connection to other media, and it’s actually a fascinating interpretation of the order of events in the film. It’s established early on in Elf that Santa’s sleigh used to run on Christmas spirit alone, but since fewer people believe in Santa Claus now, the sleigh is assisted by an engine crafted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Late in the film, the sleigh crashes in Central Park, and Santa remarks that the Claus-O-Meter dropped down to zero right before the crash. Why did this happen? Well, according to one theory, it’s because—during his first shift as an elf at Gimbel’s department store—Buddy declared the Santa on duty (Artie Lange) to be a fake, and ripped his beard off, horrifying the group of children there to see “Santa.” By doing this, Buddy shattered the image of Santa those several dozen children had, and lowered Christmas spirit just enough to cause the failure of Santa’s sleigh. Of course, he didn’t mean to do that, but it still created a ripple effect.

    8. Buddy Was The Last Person With Christmas Spirit.

    Warner Home Video

      There’s another, bleaker theory for why Santa’s sleigh went down on Christmas Eve during the film, and it has to do with Buddy’s own emotional journey. Throughout the film, Buddy is doing his best to join the world of humans, and with most people he wins them over through his sincerity, kindness, and enthusiasm. That all wears thin on Walter when Buddy ruins an important presentation, though, and Walter yells “Get out of my life, now!” which sends Buddy out into the streets. After writing a goodbye note to his family, Buddy leaves, and is walking alone in Manhattan when he sees Santa’s sleigh fall out of the sky. According to Freakazette’s theory, the two events are very related. Buddy, in this version of events, was the only person left on Earth with Christmas spirit. When his father pushed him away, that spirit left him, and the Claus-O-Meter dropped to nothing. It feels like a stretch to say that no one left on Earth had any Christmas spirit, but perhaps Buddy’s was the strongest and it dimmed in that moment. Either way, it’s a darker take on the film.

      9. Buddy’s Mom Was Killed in Central Park.

        It’s established early in the film that Buddy’s mother, Susan Wells, gave him up for adoption and later died. What we don’t actually know is how or when she died, but AustinJacob claims to have the answer. Late in the film, we’re introduced to the Central Park Rangers, an elite group of police who are tasked with tracking down Santa. The news report mentions that the Rangers are still under investigation for their “controversial” crowd control tactics at the 1985 Simon and Garfunkel concert. Now, Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park actually occurred in 1981, but that discrepancy aside, why would the Rangers still be under investigation for that? Could it be because their crowd control caused someone to die? Could that someone have been Buddy’s mother? The film, of course, does not elaborate on this, but it’s an interesting idea that only deepens the menacing aura of the Rangers.

        10. It’s part of a larger shared Santa universe.

        Elf is a film that spends quite a bit of its runtime establishing its own rules and traditions within its little Christmas movie universe, but what if there’s more to the story than even this film is telling us? What if it’s all part of a bigger, longer tradition of Santa Claus on film, and Buddy the Elf’s story is just a small part of it. That’s the theory posited by AdamGreenwood1072, who laid out a complex web of story that connects the Leslie Nielsen comedy Santa Who to Ernest Saves Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, and yes, Elf. According to this theory, each of those films represents a different version of Santa as various men step in and out of the job over the years. In Elf, Buddy is first discovered at the orphanage by the confused, tired Santa Who version of the character, but adult Buddy is actually interacting with The Santa Clause version of Santa, as evidenced by the change in costumes Santa undergoes. Buddy doesn’t realize this because, to him, it’s all one Santa Claus, but if you believe this theory, there are subtle nods to a changing of the guard at the North Pole.