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Days of the Week: Fascinating Superstitions

Days of the Week: Fascinating Superstitions

by Mary-Anne Alvaro

Have you ever noticed how certain days of the week seem to have their very own “feel” to them. Does it feel like a Monday, a Sunday or maybe a Friday? Actually, I’ve noticed that there are four days of the week that seem to produce a particular feel. For me, that’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. What happens Tuesday through to Thursday? To me, that part of the week just feels like a lump of days where I get the most of my work done. These are usually very productive days, but there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the feel of a Tuesday a Wednesday or a Thursday. But, the rest, those Friday to Monday days – well, in my experience and informal consensus, they have a most definite feel.

I was pondering this feeling of certain days of the week, so I checked with our superstition resource volume, and lo and behold, what did I find? – specific superstitions related to those particular four days of the week. Tuesday through to Thursday don’t have any entries, but Friday through to Monday sure do. Hmmmm…..Interesting….

Superstitions about Fridays to Mondays

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday: days to be especially careful!

About Fridays

So, let’s start with Friday. Apparently, there was no TGIF for our ancestors – no – they actually didn’t view Friday as a very great day. (I guess they didn’t weekend party!) Actually, Friday seems a pretty loaded day – full of a number of meanings. We all know that Catholics (at least prior to Vatican 2) used Friday as a regular fast day (no meat or “fish” day, as we called it in our neighbourhood). It seems that we have carried forward the Friday the 13th recognition, but our medieval ancestors saw all Fridays as less than fortunate. As far back as 1390, Chaucer , through the Nun’s Priest’s Tale tells us “And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce. (I never did understand that English!)

By 1656 (in easier to understand English) we come up with “Now Friday came, you old wives say, Of all the week’s the unluckiest day.” (The old wives say eh?…maybe they felt this way because their husband’s would be home all weekend!)

By 1831, we see this quote “There are still a few respectable tradesmen and merchants who will not transact business or be bled, or take physic, on a Friday, because it is an unlucky day.”

In 1867, this piece was published, giving maybe some explanation of why Friday was deemed so unlucky. In 1869, this interesting little stat made the list “One of the assistants at the bathing-machines assured me that most accidents happened on Fridays, especially Good Fridays.” Well, I’m sure that had some good statistical technique behind that! But that’s not all – apparently, Friday is a particularly bad day to begin anything on.

A story from 1804 is related in this way, “I knew another poor woman, who lost half her time in waiting for lucky days, and made it a rule never to begin any work or write a letter on business on a Friday—so her business was never done, and her fortune suffered accordingly.”

But you see, what I really like is the way those folks would “trick the heavens” to get around these unlucky indications. For example, an 1883 piece tell us “I knew an old lady who, if she had nearly completed a piece of needlework on a Thursday, would put it aside unfinished, and set a few stitches in her next undertaking, that she might not be obliged either to begin the new task on Friday or to remain idle for a day.”

Should you think it was only the ladies who thought this way, let me assure you, it was not so. Fishermen and farmers seemed to believe. From 1885, we hear “Fisherman would have great misgivings about laying the keel of a new boat on Friday, as well as launching one on that day.”

Apparently, as late as 1924, rumour has it from the rural quarter “My father would never begin harvest on a Friday”.

By 1933, this story is related “My father once decided to start harvest on a Friday, and the men went out on the Thursday evening, and, unpaid, cut along one side of the first field with they scythes, in order to dodge the malign fate which a Friday start would begin.” Well, it goes on to say that we should not begin any travels or journeys of any kind on Friday’s either.

This little 1823 quote seems to sum it up – “Sailors are many of them very superstitious…A voyage begun on a Friday is sure to be an unfortunate one.”

In 1890 a woman named Mrs. Henry Wood summed it up this way – “Sailors are more foolish on this point than you can imagine: and I believe…that ships, sailing on a Friday have come to grief through their crew losing heart. No matter what impediment is met with – bad weather, accidents, what not – the men say at once it’s of no use, we sailed on a Friday.” And who said women were the irrational ones!

These Friday things get even better – apparently there’s a old song that says: “Never be born on A Friday, Choose some other day if you can.” I guess they were imploring the soul to pay attention! There was, as always a “but” though – “It was accounted unlucky for a child to be born on a Friday, unless it happened to be Good Friday, when the untowardness of the event was counterbalanced by the sanctity of the day”. (Whew! What a relief – I was born on a Friday – and it did happen to be Good Friday – seems like I narrowly escaped a rather harrowing fate!)

These old superstitions get even better – here’s a potpourri of Friday entries – I’m telling you – you can’t do anything on a Friday! I’m amazed that day even survived into the 20th century. Based on this, I would have expected some king or queen somewhere somehow to have banished the day forever!

(1923) Harm will come to the child if you put Friday churned butter, or Friday laid eggs into its christening cake.” (Yikes! Could you imagine the fate of the poor child who may have been born on a Friday and gotten Friday eggs!)

And another: “If you have been ill, don’t get up for the first time on Friday.” (They don’t tell us why.) Or this is a good one – “If you hear anything new on a Friday, it gives you another wrinkle on your face, and adds a year to your age.”

Moving to a new house, moving to a new job – absolute no-no. Apparently, a few old paupers once were supposed to be evicted – the officials came and they steadfastly refused to move – it was, of course, a Friday. I have, of course, saved the best for last – lest you think relationships go unaffected here are the entries for both courting on a Friday and (heaven forbid) getting married on a Friday.

Dated 1851 – “A man must never ‘go a courting’ on a Friday. If an unlucky fellow is caught .. he is followed home by a band of musicians playing on pokers, tongs, pan-lids,” (Yep – that’s what it said)

(1890) “No ‘chap’ might meet his ‘woman’ on a Friday evening. That was ‘jinglin neet’. If he did, he would be sure to set all the old frying pans and kettles in motion, as if a thousand bees were aswarm”(1901) “Friday evening is not considered a correct or suitable time for courtship. The first person spying a couple so engaged enters the house, seizes the frying-pan, and beat on it a tattoo. This arouses the neighbours, who give a warm reception to the offending couple if they do not withdraw hurriedly.” (Who wouldn’t run away with all that banging going on!)

(1957) “Never court on a Friday or you’ll never meet again.” (Hey – Friday’s a big date night – that explains why so many modern relationships fail!)

As for getting married – well you can imagine.

(1870) “The Registrar-General of England, in his last report, says…’Women will not wed on a Friday so willingly as on other days of the week.’” From 1879, we find “As to Friday, a couple married on that day are doomed to a cat-and-dog life.”

Kind of makes you wonder what could possibly be left for that unluckiest of all days – Friday the 13th. I’m sure you can imagine what evil might lurk on that day – This is from 1960 – yep 1960 –

“A note left by a window cleaner who was found dead in a gas-filled room at his home said: ‘It just needed to rain today – Friday the 13th – for me to make up my mind.’ (I suppose it rained.)

1983 – “Friday the 13th is very unlucky because every Friday the 13th one person in my family always hurts their self.” From 1984 “You don’t think I’m going to reply to a business letter written on Friday the 13th do you?”

As far as I can gather, we have loaded all the unlucky Friday stuff, spread over 51 of them in old times (remember Good Friday is good) onto one “Friday the 13th”. Just like Downey, I guess – the new concentrated version – a little goes a long way.

About Saturdays

Knowing the Friday superstitions, you may think “okay then, I’ll wait until Saturday, but you know, it really wasn’t that much luckier. (1854) “Saturday’s flit will never sit” is a proverb of prediction with superstitious servants, who reluctantly enter upon a new service on that day. “It is not well to change situations on a Saturday. ‘Saturday’s enter is a short residenter.’ ” That was 1899. Cute eh? Now, back to Friday for a moment – servants starting on a Friday was bad news – apparently they wouldn’t stay. But Saturday and Sunday were no better for hiring on new staff. From 1851 comes:

“Saturday and Sunday are unlucky days for servants to go to their places: thus the saying ‘Saturday servants never stay, Sunday servants run away.’

“I recollect, when I was a boy in Norfolk, thirty-five years ago hearing old labourers say that it was bad luck to put in a crop on a Saturday”. “Work begun on a Saturday was sure to ‘see seven Saturdays before completion.’

I like this one the best – “If you start work on a Saturday, you will either marry or run away.” Well, there are many entries suggesting that work on a Saturday was a very bad idea – all sorts of bad luck would befall you. The idea behind it seems to be that Sabbath observance begins at noon on Saturday all the way through to Monday. From 1909 comes “She that makes butter on a Monday or Saturday is a ‘witch for sure and certain’. ” And doing laundry of any kind was definitely OUT.

About Sundays

Sunday is definitely reserved for worship. I grew up with one that I found here mentioned many times. That was sewing. Cutting or sewing on a Sunday was simply not done. “If you sewed on Sunday, the Devil would thread the needle.” “Another way to bring bad luck to oneself is by darning or sewing on a Sunday.”

Many cultures have rules against work on Sunday, due to its Sabbath nature, of course. It was, of course, fortunate to be born on Sunday or even wed on Sunday, but work of any kind would open the door to the Devil. These were some dire warnings of the time – transgressors would be punished. We’ll begin these entries all the way back to the 5th century BC , this is credited to Numbers 15: 32-6 (Biblical) “While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day .. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him… and he died.”

Apparently in a very sincere Letter to his Children on Keeping the Lords Day (1762), one M. Hale wrote to his children “In all your actions of this day, let there be no lightness nor vanity; use no running, nor leaping, nor playing, nor wrestling; use no jesting, nor telling of tales or foolish stories, no talk about worldly business. I have found that a due observation of the duty of the day, hath ever had joined to it, a blessing upon the rest of my time; and the week that hath been so begun, hath been blessed and prosperous to me; and on the other side, when I have been negligent of the duties of the day, the rest of the week hath been unsuccessful and unhappy.”‘

In 1697 this belief comes as a much more dire warning –

“A certain Nobleman, profaning the Sabbath, usually in Hunting, had a child by his wife, with a head like a dog, and with ears and chaps, crying like a hound.” (Talk about bad luck!). In 1807 comes a letter from England stating “Half the people seriously believe that were they to touch a (playing) card on a Sunday, they should immediately find the devil under the table.” To back that up, in 1838 we find “Three men were at work late on the Saturday night” (hadn’t they heard, that was bad too) “when they saw issue from the rock a large ball of fire, which rolled on towards them. The men were dreadfully terrified, and calling to their recollection that the Sunday had commenced, they fully believed they were pursued by the devil.” We hear also that “If you keep a person’s birthday festivities on a Sunday – they will sure die before another birthday.”

In 1968, one tale is shared “The old Tay Bridge was blown down in 1879. And the loss of the train that went with it was a story that chilled us in childhood. It was said that my Grandfather, who was at that time a minister at Kirkcaldy, had held up my four-year-old father to look at that ‘wicked Sunday train’. It was at that moment on its way to pay for its wickedness.”

In 1987, we find “My old granny used to say, ‘Work done on a Sunday will come undone on the Monday.’ ”

Those sailors had their ideas on this matter of Sunday as well. You see, they figured it was actually fortunate to sail on a Sunday, but there was a condition. They had to figure a way to get around the fact that they were essentially going to work on a Sunday – “sabbath breaking”. So, as the stories go

“It is a favourite custom to set sail on the Sunday for the fishing grounds. A clergyman of the town is said to pray against their sabbath-breaking; and to prevent any injury accruing from his prayers, the fishermen make a small image of rags and burn it on top of their chimneys.” “Sunday was a lucky day, but no ship would ever put to sea until a blessing had been pronounced, i.e. until after morning service.”

So, let’s recap, so far, we can’t start work on Friday, can’t do work on Saturday and definitely can’t work on Sunday. Sounds more to me like they figured a way to make every weekend a long weekend!

About Mondays

Monday’s are a bit more ambiguous. Of course, we have our fair share of misfortune for things going on on Monday, everywhere that is except Ireland, where they felt it was the most fortunate of beginnings. There are lots of things to do and not do on a Monday – so let’s get started here. “No great undertaking can be auspiciously commenced in Ireland on any morning but Monday morning. Oh please god we live till Monday morning, we’ll set the slater to mend the roof of the house. On Monday morning we’ll fall to and cut the turf. On Monday morning, we’ll see and begin mowing. On Monday morning, please your honours, we’ll begin and dig the potatoes” (My goodness, sounds like a very busy morning doesn’t it?)

Very few agreed with the Irish (I guess their weekend wasn’t long enough yet). The Scottish addressed the Irish in this way

“the idea is completely inverted in Ireland (as opposed to Scotland), Monday being accounted the most lucky day in the week … undoubtedly a relique of the ancient pagan worship of the Moon.”

“Some days are considered here unlucky upon which to begin any work of importance .. Monday is one of those days.” In 1909 from Wales comes “Work begun on Monday will never be a week old.” (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). “Any job started on a Monday was always likely to be finished quickly.”

Well, just to add a bit of sexism to the mix we find “If Monday, be first mentioned in company by a female, of what age or rank soever, they (feeble-minded people) account it a most unlucky omen. But it gives relief to such minds, if the fatal term be first mentioned by a male. I know not, if this strange superstition be peculiar to the North of Scotland.. why the power of dissolving the charm is ascribed to the male sex, it is not easy to imagine.” (Amen sister!).

“Some, who might well be supposed more enlightened, will not give away money of this day of the week, or on the first day of the Moon.” (1893) “In Tipperary and Limerick the country people object to giving away anything on a Monday.” “If a shopkeeper gives credit to his customers on Monday morning he will have no luck that week.” (1898) “In a Fife fishing village .. If one man was to ask a match from another on a Monday, the giver would break a bit off the end of it, so as not to part with this luck for the week.”.

In 1912, we find this entry “It is lucky to receive money on a Monday morning, and means money coming in all the week.” Yeah, but someone had to give it to you and that, apparently, wasn’t so lucky.

And, no grave-digging – (1891) “Some days are considered here unlucky even to bury the dead. Monday is one of those days. .. If they have occasion to bury a corpse .. they turn a sod on the grave the previous day.” “No grave allowed to be dug on a Monday.”

Can’t sew again on Monday either “do not do any mending on a Monday or you will be at it all the week.”And finally, “If visitors come on Monday it is said the house will be full all the week. If the first person to come to your door on a Monday morning is dark, you will be lucky through the week. If fair, unlucky.” (I guess that means no blondes on Monday morning!).

So there you have it. It must have been tough to figure out how to get anything done!

From 1797, someone seemed to recognize how silly this could all get “Sally had so many unlucky days in her calendar, that a large portion of her time became of little use, because on these days she did not dare set about any new work. And she would have refused the best offer if made on a Friday.” (or any other day it seems.) I think we should readapt these practices – I don’t know about you, but a four day long weekend, every single weekend sounds like something I could get used to. How about you?

Just for fun, I’ll add the most famous days of the week poem, still in circulation to this day. There are, however, a few different versions – I’m going with the one I grew up hearing.

“Monday’s child is fair of face;
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe;
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving;
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child born on the Sabbath is blithe and bonny and good and gay.”

At least poor Friday’s child seems to have gained some reprieve. Oh and PS. – I’m writing this on a Tuesday!

As usual, the source for this information is A Dictionary of Superstitions, Edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem and published by Oxford Press.

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