50 Amazing Skills You Can Learn on YouTube

iStock.com/Ermolenko
iStock.com/Ermolenko

We at Mental Floss are always eager to learn new things and develop new skills. If you resolved to pick up a new hobby this year or just need to finally figure out how to do some home repairs on your own, we have you covered. Here, we've collected 50 YouTube tutorials that will give you all the basics to learn both the fun (like poker or calligraphy) and the practical (like CPR or how to clean a cast iron pan). Happy learning!

1. How To Whistle With Your Fingers

This one definitely takes some practice, but it will come in handy should you ever need to hail a cab, call a dog, or get someone's attention from afar. The video shows you exactly how to position your mouth in order to get that perfect whistle.

2. How To Unclog A Kitchen Sink

For everyday clogs, you can often avoid the plumber by putting chemistry to good use. The principles Pan the Organizer uses here are the same that made your volcano bubble over at the elementary school science fair—baking soda and white vinegar, plus some heavy helpings of boiling water. It's a method that's great for people short on time, patience, or tolerance for plumber's crack.

3. How To Make Kombucha

Kombucha may seem complicated, but with a little know-how, it's actually one of the easiest drinks to make at home. All you need is a SCOBY (a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, the kombucha starter that is also sometimes called "the mother"), tea bags, sugar, water, and a big jar. Follow the recipe, set it out of the way, and watch it ferment for anywhere between one and four weeks before bottling and refrigerating it.

4. How To Speed-Read

If you made a resolution to read more books this year, then this is the tutorial for you. Memory expert Ron White highlights a few techniques you can use to double, triple, or even quadruple your reading speed. One of the tips is to stop sub-vocalizing, or reading to yourself in your head using "silent speech." A bit of Bach in the background doesn't hurt, either.

5. How To Remove A Stain From A Couch Or Carpet

Stains are a fact of life, but watching Oprah's method for removing them in this Vanity Fair video makes them a little easier to bear—and remove. Her secret involves several doses of club soda, which loosens the stain and makes it bubble up, followed by a modest application of dishwashing detergent. You'll not only learn a handy trick here, but you get to watch Oprah's face light up with glee as she watches the club soda do the job. Who doesn't love bubbles?

6. How To Build A Campfire

Grab your tinder, kindling, and fuel wood and let this video from REI show you how to build a great campfire. Along with teaching you how to build a classic "teepee-style" fire, the instructor also explains the "log cabin technique" and the "pyramid technique." These two types of long-lasting campfires require minimal attention, giving you extra time to eat an another s'more.

7. How To Do A Cartwheel

For the young at heart who want to frolick and flip in the meadows come spring (or, just teach some kids a skill you never quite mastered), a cartwheel is a far more attainable gymnastic goal than, say, a back handspring. Warm up with some stretches, and then follow these instructions on how to find your dominant side, where to place your feet and arms, and how to begin straightening your legs so there's some semblance of grace.

8. How To Remove A Red Wine Stain

First, blot as much of the liquid out of the stain as possible. Then, pour cool water on the fabric, followed by a generous pour of salt. Next, take boiling water and pour that over the stain. Let it sit for a while. If that doesn't do the trick, mix one part vinegar and two parts water, soaking the stain in that solution. Toss it in the wash to make it good as new. Then, pour yourself another glass of red.

9. How To Fix A Candle With A Buried Wick

If you can't light your favorite candle because the wick has gotten buried by wax, it's relatively easy to fix the issue. All you have to do, according to eHow Home, is heat up the candle with a torch or other heat source (a hair dryer will work, as long as you watch out for splash) so that the top layer of wax melts. Then pour off the hot wax to reveal the lost wick. Keep heating the candle until you've melted and poured out enough wax to expose a significant piece of wick. You can use tweezers or another tool to straighten out the wick and then re-light the candle.

10. How To Say "Hello" In Nearly 50 Languages

You might already know namaste and konnichiwa, but what about zdravo, ahoj, or annyeong? Let Lingualizer be your guide to cross-cultural greetings in 46 different languages. Whether you're planning a trip around the world or just want to impress at a party, this two-minute tutorial will help you make friends no matter where you go.

11. How To Change A Tire

Sometimes you need to be your own roadside assistance, which is why Howdini's quick and simple tutorial on how to get back on track after a flat tire is a must-watch. You’ll not only learn how to mount a spare, but how to do it safely and without risking injury from passing traffic.

12. How To Tie A Tie

Never fear another formal event with this guide to tying a necktie with a simple knot. Only four steps—behind, across, out, and through—need to be mastered. After only minimal practice, you should easily be able execute a knot in less than 10 seconds.

13. How To Cut An Onion (Without Crying)

There's no need to break out the industrial goggles every time you chop onions. It is possible to prepare the ingredient without weeping all over your cutting board—you just need to know which part of the pungent veggie to avoid.

14. How To Survive A Shark Attack

In the exceedingly rare, infinitesimally small chance that you could be attacked by a shark, Joe Bereta of Epic How To has a few tips. First, avoidance is key: keep out of the water at night, don't swim near river deltas where sharks like to hunt small fish, and never go swimming in Florida's open waters. If you do encounter a shark, stay calm, remain vertical in the water (it's more difficult to bite you that way), and move quickly toward shore. If the shark isn't getting the hint, bonk it on the nose with a rock or your fist and just get the hell out of there.

15. How To Clean A Cast Iron Pan

Cooking great food with a cast iron pan is easy. It's the part that comes after the meal that scares many home cooks away from owning this essential piece of kitchen equipment. Unlike some other pans, you can't stick a dirty cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. Scrubbing it with soap will damage the pan's layer of seasoning, and letting it sit around wet can cause it to rust. Fortunately, when you know how to clean and season a cast iron pan (rub it down with a mild oil, like flaxseed or vegetable oil—not olive oil!), maintaining one isn't so intimidating.

16. How To Make A Bed Properly

Ever wonder how hotels manage to make their bed sheets look so perfect? It's a skill you can easily master with this HGTV primer on creating a Four Seasons-ready bedding ensemble, including how do a proper "hospital corner" tuck at the foot of the bed. You'll even learn the secret for having crisp, wrinkle-free sheets. (Hint: It's not ironing.)

17. How To Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Have you ever tried to boil an egg and ended up with a squishy, sulfurous mess? Tasty is here to help. Place eggs in a saucepot, cover completely with water, and bring to a full boil. Then remove the pot from the heat and cover with a lid. Timing is important: For soft boiled eggs, keep the pot covered for 4 to 6 minutes; for medium-hard, 8 to 10 minutes, and for hard, 14 to 16 minutes. Then, pop them in a quick icebath to make peeling easier, and enjoy!

18. How To Make A Simple Bouquet

Want to add a personal touch to a romantic gift? Flowers are always welcome—but a gorgeous bouquet, crafted with your own two hands (and creative abilities) is even better. Prep the flower and filler greens by stripping the stems of any thorns or excess leaves, arrange in three equal bunches with the focal flowers supported by the accent greens, and then bind the three bunches together with string. This clip even shows how to wrap your bouquet in brown paper for that straight-from-the-farmers'-market look. It's a skill that will come in handy on Mother's Day, anniversaries, birthdays, and beyond.

19. How To Be A Better Dancer In Three Steps

No matter how awkward or insecure you may be (and you're not alone), there comes a time when everyone must hit the dance floor with pride, or (maybe) die trying. Thankfully, this video from The Wall Street Journal breaks down the art of dancing into three easy steps: finding the basic beat of the music; step-touching with your feet; and trying variations of the step-touch to make it your own. It's an incredibly simple way to make the terrifying task of dancing in front of your friends and relatives a bit less daunting.

20. How To Save A Burnt Cake

Have your cake and then eat it, too. It takes so much work to bake a cake, and with this easy trick using a basic cheese grater to smooth off any blackened sections, you can avoid the massive letdown of a burned-looking dessert. Even better, the same trick will also work on a loaf of bread.

21. How To Play The Piano

Even if you never took piano lessons as a child, you can learn the basics with this series of short lessons. Whether it's learning the names of each key (like in this four-minute clip) or the follow-up videos on how to play various major and minor chords, a few minutes on YouTube will certainly get you past the "Chopsticks" playing level.

22. How To Repair Drywall

Fixing a hole in drywall isn't necessarily the sexiest skill, but it is one of the most satisfying—and essential. Rather than hiring a handyman to make the fix, use this video from Lowe's, which runs you through fixes for everything from tiny holes (which require some spackle and a drywall knife) to dents from door knobs (you'll need a patch kit) to bigger holes (get yourself some drywall, furring strips, and joint tape!). They might seem intimidating, but it's surprisingly easy to DIY.

23. How To Hit A Baseball

Many people can attest to the difficulty of hitting a baseball; some have even said it's the hardest thing "in the galaxy" to do. This video by ProSwingNY, however, breaks down the basic logistics in just seven fundamental steps, from squaring up to the pitcher to, of course, breathing. It might not take you to major league level, but it'll certainly give you a major advantage!

24. How To Juggle

Juggling is one of those skills that looks hard but is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. This video will help you learn to juggle three balls at once, starting from the very basics (learn to toss one ball back and forth with your eyes closed) up until you feel comfortable adding the second and third ball.

25. How To Pack A Suitcase

This video from Heathrow Airport uses flight attendant tips to help travelers maximize space in their suitcase. First, lay out everything you're thinking of bringing, then eliminate a third of it. Shoes go first: Stuff underwear and socks inside, then pop the shoes into the suitcase heel to toe. Pack the space between them with soft items like T-shirts (roll them if you have to!). Next, layer bulkier items like jeans and dresses by putting each item half in, half out of the suitcase, alternating sides; then, fold the parts outside the suitcase back into the suitcase. The next layer is a bag for your dirty clothes, over which you'll pack items like toiletries and books (make sure they're in the middle!). Snake belts around the inside edge of your suitcase. The last layer is collared shirts.

26. How To Improve Your Handwriting

Nearly everyone's handwriting can devolve into illegible chicken scratch without some practice and upkeep. If you want to spruce up your penmanship, this tutorial will walk you through some tips that you might have forgotten over the years, like how you shouldn't over-embellish any cursive loops and that proper spacing is key.

27. How To Do Calligraphy

If you've mastered cursive and want to take your writing skills to the next level, or if you just want to be able to enhance your next handwritten invitation, this how-to on modern calligraphy gives you a broad scope of the basics. Start by practicing all of letters individually to get used to making a thin upstroke and thick downstroke—and while you're at it, you'll be able to hone in on your favorite lettering style.

28. How To Get Wax Out Of A Tablecloth

Candle wax on the tablecloth is one of those unavoidable dinner party realities. But you won't cry over spilled wax if you have this video from Real Simple, which shows how to remove the melted material from fabric in two (or less) easy steps: First, freeze the waxed fabric, then scrape the wax off with a knife and throw the item in the laundry. If there's still wax remaining, it's time to get out some wax paper and an iron.

29. How To Ride A Bike

Biking is a great way to get around town—and a fun way to stay in shape—but if you didn't learn as a kid, riding on two wheels can seem pretty intimidating. This video by Cycling UK helps makes learning to ride as an adult easy, breaking down each step to properly guide you. It also emphasizes one particularly important fact: Practice makes perfect!

30. How To Make Balloon Animals

Balloon animals are irresistible. If you want to be a hit at the next children's birthday party you attend, this video by Balloon Animals on how to make a balloon dog is the place to start. It's commonly the first animal twisters learn to make, and because it requires three "lock" twists (at the ears and each set of legs), you'll learn how to make a sturdy animal from the get-go.

31. How To Knit

Though it may seem daunting at first, knitting is one of those skills that only becomes more rewarding over time. This how-to takes a look at the very first step necessary to knit anything: casting on. Let the soothing voice of Kristen Mangus of Goodknit Kisses be your guide as you learn to make your first stitch. Once you master that skill, GoodKnit Kisses has hundreds more videos of different techniques and tutorials for you to tackle.

32. How To Make A Paper Airplane

The fun of paper airplanes is often in the customization (hint: fancy wing fins), but it's also in the satisfaction of a successful flight. This video shows you how to not just make an airplane that will fly, but one that will fly fast. One you have the hang of this particular fold, you can move on to adding more embellishments.

33. How To Perform A Magic Trick

What's a great way to make your presence felt at whatever event you're attending? Magic, obviously. This video by Troom Troom SELECT shows you how to prepare and perform not just one, but 20 wildly different magic tricks. Each bit is designed for beginner magicians, but they'll still dazzle your unsuspecting audience.

34. How To Teach Your Cat To High-Five

Cats are notorious for doing only what they want to do, but don't let that fool you: They can be trained. To teach your cat how to high-five, stock up on a treat she loves, find an area that's distraction-free, and try to get her to bat at the treat. Interrupt the batting with your hand, make a clicking noise, and give her the treat; repeat. As with any skill, practice makes perfect, so keep at it with the tips in this video from Woman's Day—your kitty will be high-fiving in no time.

35. How To Meditate

Maybe you're stressed over that final paper you have due in a week, or there's a family gathering that you have been tasked with putting together. Finding ways to help your brain relax is important—and one of those ways is meditation. Achieving serenity isn't always easy, but this video breaks down the process into five easy steps: having the right location, keeping a straight spine, pre-mediation preparation, focusing on your breath, and observing without judgment.

36. How To Code

Coding—a.k.a. computer programming—is one of the most desirable and valuable skills to have in the 21st-century workplace. The complex system of symbols, letters, and commands can be intimidating, and learning the basics will take quite a bit longer than many of the other skills on this list. But starting with this video from Clever Programmer will help you understand what to look for in an online course and how to narrow down which language makes the most sense for you and your goals. Think of it as the tutorial before you begin your tutorials.

37. How To Dive

If you ever watch the summer Olympic Games, you might have been awestruck by the ways athletes made diving look so elegant. While this video by Sikana English can't guarantee you a spot on the podium, it does show you three methods—the pencil, sitting, and standing dives—for beginner divers, which will help you make a graceful entry into the water.

38. How To Play Poker

Don't know a flush from a flop? In under 10 minutes, get schooled on Texas Hold 'Em by a couple of professional British players from PokerStars, who up your ante by helping you learn the most important terms and the hierarchy of betting hands.

39. How To Drive Stick

Driving stick is almost a lost art form these days, but the delicate dance between clutch, brake, gas pedal, and gearshift can be mastered with help from Jalopnik's six-minute video. The goal is to avoid stalling the car; to do that, push the clutch all the way down to shift gears and brake, then ease slowly off the clutch as you press down on the gas. For your maiden voyage, it might help to have someone in the passenger seat giving you instructions.

40. How To Moonwalk

Learn to mimic the moves made famous by the King of Pop with this helpful guide from DZRCK, a dancer who offers a wealth of hip-hop tutorials on his YouTube channel. In this video, he breaks the magical glide of the moonwalk into three, easy-to-understand steps (and also addresses basic mistakes regularly made by beginners).

41. How To Do Basic CPR

CPR saves lives—just ask Michael Scott. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is easy to get the hang of (especially if you keep this playlist in mind), but it's more complicated than it appears, and updated information on proper techniques has changed over the years. This quick, 2-minute guide covers basic, compression-only CPR.

42. How To Play Chess

With over 100 million different variations of possible games, chess is the antithesis of what you might call simple. This video by Triple S Games won't make you a chess wiz, but it provides a succinct explanation of the basic principles of the game, including the rules and how each separate piece can move. Who knows, you might get hooked!

43. How To Play Pool

If you've seen movies featuring characters who enjoy a good hustle, chances are there was a game of pool involved. But it's not always as easy as it looks on the screen. This video by FargoBilliards teaches you how to play pool in under 10 minutes, so next time you find yourself at a local bar, you won't embarrass yourself pretending to be Paul Newman.

44. How To Play Guitar

At one point or another, the allure of being a rock star has probably crossed your mind. This video by onlineguitarschool may not lead you down the path of eternal glory, but it will give you the steps it takes to begin your journey in under 10 minutes, including an explanation of how each part of the guitar works and the function of the chords and strings on it. There's even a helpful mnemonic, "Elephants and Donkeys Grow Big Ears," to help you remember the order of the strings!

45. How To Take Better Photos

Ever heard of the "rule of thirds"? Using the grid feature in your camera app (or by conjuring up a mental grid), you'll want to position the most interesting elements of the photo along the points where those lines intersect. This could be a person standing on one side of the frame, or a tree in the bottom left corner. The off-balance effect will make your photo all the more appealing, and in this video, landscape photographer Joshua Cripps walks you through how to make your next vacation photos the envy of your whole network.

46. How To Frost A Cake Like A Pro

If you've ever cut into a homemade layer cake and realized the tiers of frosting inside looked a bit lopsided, this video from Martha Stewart's Kitchen Conundrums is for you. As host Thomas Joseph shows, all you need is a frozen cake, a serrated knife, an ice cream scoop, and—the secret ingredient—a rotating cake stand.

47. How To Fold T-shirts To Maximize Drawer Space

Make your drawers spark joy. Though this how-to calls for a folding tool (like this one), you can still achieve the tight fold for your various shirts without one. Once you get the hang of it, your dresser drawers will seem much more spacious (not to mention pretty, if you manage to also color-code them).

48. How To Order Wine At A Restaurant

Multi-page wine menus can be intimidating, even to those who have a general idea of what they like. But with this quick tutorial from a Texan sommelier, you'll have the basics covered with food pairing, price ranges, and what to say when ordering. (Hint: If you buy by the glass, the best bet is the second-cheapest option.)

49. How To Beatbox

Do you ever find yourself trying to replicate that cool beat you heard on the radio, but your unpolished skills produce a sound reminiscent of a car malfunctioning? Have no fear; this video by Howcast teaches the basics of beatboxing in just seven steps, and all you need is your mouth and a rhythm to focus on.

50. How To Fold An Origami Crane

Folding paper planes is a satisfying endeavor, but sometimes you might have greater aspirations in the paper-folding arts. Origami, in many ways, is the next step of this hierarchy of paper machinations. This video by EzOrigami gives you a detailed guide of how to create the iconic crane model, and the only thing you'll need is one square sheet of paper.

By Colin Ainsworth, Erika Berlin, Michele Debczak, Shaunacy Ferro, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Emily Petsko, Lucas Reilly, Javier Reyes, and Jake Rossen.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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 helped inspire the phobia.

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. So did Loki.

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 the day (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.

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