Finding a four-leaf clover, carrying a rabbit’s foot, and crossing your fingers are considered symbols of good luck by many. Athletes famously engage in superstitious rituals—basketball legend Michael Jordan reportedly wore the same pair of shorts under his NBA uniform for every game, and tennis star Serena Williams ties her shoelaces the same way before every match and always bounces the tennis ball five times before her first serve. Good luck superstitions, ranging from small gestures to elaborate observance, exist in cultures all over the world. Here are 14 of them.
1. THROW BROKEN DISHES AT HOUSES // DENMARK
In Denmark, people save their broken dishes throughout the year in anticipation of throwing them on New Year’s Eve. Danes chuck the broken plates at their friends' and family’s houses as a way to wish the recipient good luck in the year to come. Some Danish (and also German) children opt to leave a pile of broken dishes on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbors, in a less aggressive manner of wishing prosperity.
2. SWEEP DIRT AWAY FROM THE FRONT DOOR // CHINA
In China, it's believed that good fortune enters your life through your front door. Just before the New Year, Chinese people follow a tradition of thoroughly cleaning their homes to bid farewell to the previous year, but to avoid sweeping all that good luck out, the home is swept inward and collected in a pile to be carried out the back door, never through the front. In fact, no cleaning is performed at all during the first two days of the New Year so that no good luck can be swept away.
3. EAT A DOZEN GRAPES AND WEAR RED UNDERWEAR TO RING IN THE NEW YEAR // SPAIN
When midnight strikes to usher in a New Year, Spaniards eat 12 green grapes for 12 months of good luck. They eat one grape at each bell toll, chewing and swallowing quickly, and they wear red underwear while doing so. The superstition involving grapes dates back to century ago when there was a grape surplus, and the red underwear originated in the Middle Ages, when Spaniards couldn’t outwardly wear red clothing because it was considered to be a devilish color.
4. BIRD DROPPINGS ARE A SIGN OF GREAT THINGS TO COME // RUSSIA
Rather than view a bird defecating on them as a disgusting surprise, Russians welcome it as a sign of good luck and fortune. To Russians, bird droppings on you, your home, or your car signifies that money will be coming your way. Don't worry, if multiple birds defecate on you, you’ll supposedly get more money.
5. SPILL WATER BEHIND SOMEONE // SERBIA
According to Serbian folk stories, spilling water behind someone is a great way to give them good luck. Because moving water is fluid and smooth, it confers good luck to the person you spill it behind. Serbians spill water behind their friends and family members who are preparing to take a test, face a job interview, or go on a trip.
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6. HANG UPSIDE-DOWN TO KISS A ROCK // IRELAND
A woman kissing the Blarney Stone, circa 1950. Getty
The legendary Blarney Stone at Ireland’s Blarney Castle attracts visitors who kiss the stone to get the gifts of good luck and eloquence. Visitors who want its good luck must walk to the top of the castle, lean backwards, and hold on to a railing so their lips can reach the stone. Kissing the inconveniently located stone is a risky enough process that castle employees help visitors by holding on to their bodies as they lean back.
7. WEAR A SURROGATE PENIS // THAILAND
Boys and men in Thailand believe that wearing a palad khik, or surrogate penis amulet, under their pants will bring them luck. Carved from bone or wood, the surrogate penises are under 2 inches long and are thought to lessen the severity of potential injuries for the wearers. Some men wear multiple penis amulets—one for good luck with women and another for good luck when gambling or fighting, for example.
8. BRIDES SHOULD PUT A BELL ON THEIR DRESSES // IRELAND
Irish brides wear small bells on their wedding dresses or jewelry, or they put bells in their bouquets. The bells are worn as a symbol of good luck because the ringing allegedly discourages evil spirits intent on destroying the union. Guests may also ring bells during the ceremony or give bells to the couple as a wedding gift.
9. SAY THE WORD ‘RABBIT’ WHEN YOU WAKE UP // UNITED KINGDOM
A good luck superstition that originated in the United Kingdom involves saying “rabbit” right after you wake up on the first day of the month. Whether you say “rabbit,” “white rabbits,” or “rabbit, rabbit,” the ritual will supposedly give you good luck for the rest of the month. The superstition has been around since at least the early 1900s, and even President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly said “rabbit, rabbit” to usher in each new month. If you forget to say it in the morning, for the same results simply say “black rabbit” or “tibbar, tibbar” (rabbit spelled backwards) right before you go to sleep instead.
10. RUB SPECIAL INCENSE ON YOUR ACHING BODY PARTS // JAPAN
The front of the Sensoji Temple in east Tokyo, Japan has a giant incense burner that visitors go to for a “good luck” smoke bath. This ancient Buddhist temple, the oldest in Tokyo, was founded in 628 CE and Japanese people view the incense as holy for its healing powers. Visitors come to stand around the incense, waving the smoke around their bodies, to receive good health.
11. THE NUMBER EIGHT IS GREAT // CHINA
Speaking the number eight in Chinese sounds similar to the word for fortune and prosperity, so people in China love anything having to do with eight. Chinese people schedule marriages on dates involving the number, and everything from flight numbers to phone numbers are more lucky if they have eights in them. With this superstition in mind, the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing started at 8:08 p.m. on 8/8/2008.
12. EAT BEANS ON NEW YEAR’S EVE // ARGENTINA
Argentinians prepare themselves for the New Year by eating beans for good luck. Whether they eat them on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, Argentinians believe that the beans will bring them luck and security in their jobs. A cheap and deliciously easy way to gain a sense of job security and peace of mind for the year to come!
13. ACCIDENTALLY BREAK BOTTLES OF ALCOHOL // JAPAN
After he accidentally knocked a full bottle of Scotch off the shelf at the bar where he worked, a clumsy bartender in Okinawa, Japan felt humiliated and assumed he would be in big trouble. Instead, the owner and patrons cheered because they believed that breaking the bottle brings good luck and higher profits to the bar. Intentionally knocking alcohol bottles onto the floor isn’t auspicious, though—it has to be an accident.
14. PLANT A TREE TO CELEBRATE YOUR WEDDING // THE NETHERLANDS AND SWITZERLAND
In the Netherlands and Switzerland, some newlyweds plant a pine tree outside their home to bring good luck and fertility to the marriage. Other couples incorporate trees into their actual wedding ceremony, believing that the trees will bring good luck and bless their union.
All images via iStock unless otherwise noted.