So it’s another Friday the 13th and if we can all avoid hockey-mask wearing psychos, we still have this unlucky day itself to contend with. But why so unlucky? What makes Friday the 13th a cultural boogeyman instead of, say, Wednesday the 23rd? Well, it all goes back to well over a hundred years ago when absolutely nothing happened.
The truth is there is no story behind Friday the 13th. At least not a good one. 13 has been an unlucky number for generations. Why? Well, 12 was considered divine – you got your 12 apostles, 12 months, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 hours on the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 years of the Buddhist cycle and so on. 12 is just great. A dozen donuts! What’s not to like? 13, on the other hand, messed that up. The Last Supper invited a 13th guest and look how that turned out. The Norse gods had a dinner for 12, too, until Loki showed up as number 13 and ruined things. It’s not 100% clear when 13 became associated with bad luck, or how, but at least its association is historically longer than Friday the 13th.
So 13 is unlucky, why Friday? We could blame Christianity again – Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Sailors had a superstition that being at sea on Friday was a bad omen, but for all we know that was during TGIF and they just wanted to be home to watch quality NBC sitcoms. Point is, you can find a lot of sources that say 13 is unlucky and Friday is unlucky, but not a hell of a lot of reasons why. It seems only natural then, as natural as people being afraid of a day and a number, that those crazy kids would come together and Friday the 13th would be unlucky.
As it happens, you can’t really find any reference to Friday the 13th being unlucky until the turn of the last century. So this isn’t an ancient superstition, it’s some BS your great-grandparents may have been around to invent. A novel entitled Friday the Thirteenth, published in 1907, is the first time someone put the unlucky day and the unlucky number together. So this entire ridiculous superstition is just over 100 years old. The book, incidentally, was not about summer camp or multiple stabbings, but about a shady dude on Wall Street who uses fear of Friday the 13th (which the novel makes up) to his financial advantage. Word is the novel was quite popular and the media really pushed that unlucky Friday the 13th angle. Obviously they did a good job of it.
In a little over a hundred years we now take it for granted that this unlucky day exists. We make mention of it on the news in passing, we try to avoid the terrible sequels to the movie franchise of the same name, although it’s worth noting that in Jason X, when they distract Jason with dimwitted holograms that he then beats against a tree, the whole franchise really hit a sublime level, and we never question why. Well, now you don’t need to question. There’s literally almost nothing behind this relatively young and pointless superstition. Nothing bad ever happened on this day long ago, unless you think the guy who wrote the Da Vinci Code is a legitimate source of history and it’s likely not much worse ever will.
UPDATE: Let it never be said Break doesn't listen to its audience. What about the Knights Templar? What indeed. The last paragraph has a joke about Dan Brown in it as Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, is the sole reason you'e mentioning the Knights today. Was a call made for the execution of those Knights on Friday the 13th? Sure. And it wasn't until 2003 when Dan Brown made a connection that people assumed it had anything to do with unlucky Friday the 13th. Our friends at Snopes, the urban legend website tend to agree, as does this article from the ibtimes and this livescience piece which places the origin of Friday the 13th being unlucky in recent times.
It seems like there should be more to it but the fact is, Friday the 13th is just a made up thing. And made up pretty recently, too. Now 13 being unlucky is old as hell, and so is Friday so sure they fit well together, just don't worry so much about petting black cats or going camping today is all.