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Superstitions, Old Wives Tales, and Tradition

Updated on July 2, 2019
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Denise homeschooled her 4 children and has stories. She provided art lessons for many children in the homeschool community for many years.

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What Do You Believe?

Over the years I have heard several superstitions, most of which are laughable. I was raised that superstition was nonsense, old wives tales, and hogwash. Yet at the same time my mother taught me to say “Bless You” when sneezing, not walk under ladders, and throw salt over my shoulder. I came to think that these were traditions and not really superstitions.

I have a feeling most people follow some tradition or another, passed down through the generations without much thought. We just do as we are told. Don’t run with scissors… pretty good words to live by since you could lose an eye if you tripped. So why did I bother wearing something old and new and borrowed and blue at my wedding? Why was it important not to see the groom on my wedding day? I didn’t know or care at the time. Tradition. I just did it.

Ladders, umbrellas, black cats, spilled salt, horse shoes, shooting stars, four-leaf clovers, coins in a fountain… the list goes on and on. Here are a few of the many superstitions I have heard and read about over the years. Have you heard of these too?

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Hair Brush

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Hair? Really?

Don’t pull hair out of your brush and just throw it into the trash. Birds could get it and make nests with it, which will give you migraines… which could be bad luck.

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Scissors

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Sharp Gifts

Don’t give something sharp (knives, scissors, pins) as a gift because it will sever your relationship.

Years ago my first husband was so into superstitions that he wouldn’t allow me to buy presents and gifts for my own family before checking with his mother to see if there was something wrong with it. I didn’t say much about it at the time because I didn’t like to rock the boat but I did think it was crazy when I wasn’t allowed to buy my brother a pocket knife because it was sharp and could sever my relationship with my brother.

Years later when the marriage was nearing the end, my good friend gave me a Christmas ornament as a gift. It was one of those Styrofoam balls covered with beads stuck in with pins. I accepted the gift graciously but later that day when my husband saw it, he was mad that I would accept a sharp gift. I figured he shouldn’t care if my relationship with a lady he didn’t like was in jeopardy and I refused to return my gift. It was only a few months later that I packed up and left him. He was mean and abusive and had been beating me regularly for 4 years. Instead of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings, he blamed the breakup on my friend who had given me a Christmas ornament filled with pins. She called me and told me he had stormed up to her house, threw the ornament at her and told her it was all her fault for my leaving. I still find that amusing.

Shipwreck

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Boat Christening

Christening a boat with Champaign is good luck but if the ritual doesn’t go as planned (the bottle doesn’t break) the boat is cursed.

Sidewalk Cracks

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Break Your Mother's Back

Step on a crack and you break your mother’s back. Originally born from racism and was “step on a crack and turn your mother black.”

Actually, I tried this one day. My mother had yelled at me for some silliness I had done before school that day. At school, I stomped on every crack I could see to get back at her. By lunch, I repented and became scared, literally afraid to go home and see if my mother’s back was broken. I remember praying for her healing all the way home and never stepped purposely on cracks again. You can imagine her confused look when I asked about her health and whether or not she had a backache.

Pick It Up

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Penny or Pin?

See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck. This used to be “see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.” This was because pins were expensive to make and easy to lose, I’m sure. These days pennies are of so little value that it almost isn't worth the effort to pick it up.

Sneeze

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God Bless You

A gesture of wishing good health after sneezing: “God Bless You,” “Gesundheit,” or just “Bless You” were born of the thought that a sneeze was the devil or even your own spirit leaving your body. Believed to have dated back to the days of Bubonic Plague epidemic, because a sneeze was an early sign of the disease, a blessing was meant to ward it off.

My current honey is so against superstitions that he won’t let me “bless” him when he sneezes. It was quite a hard habit to break not to say “Bless You” after a sneeze but I finally managed. I don’t bless him at all anymore. Hmmm. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

Superstitions

Superstitions or Traditions

Do you believe in superstitions or believe they are only traditions?

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Money Coming

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Itchy palms

Itchy palms mean you were coming into money and if you close your hand you will be able to keep it. I can’t say I ever got rich following this rule. And I have had plenty of itchy palms.

Clover

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Four-leaf Clover

Four-leaf clovers are considered good luck because supposedly Eve brought one out of the Garden of Eden with her as a souvenir of paradise. Probably it has more to do with the idea that the ancient Celts attributed magical power to four-leaf clovers. How many hours did I waste sitting among the clover looking for one with four leaves? I’d rather not say.

I think it’s rather like worrying or rocking in a rocking chair. It doesn’t get you anywhere but it’s something to do.

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Friggatriskaidekaphobia

Friday has always had some unlucky connotations attributed to it because Jesus was crucified on a Friday and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales mention it as an unlucky day. The 13th got bad press for simply following 12 because twelve is supposed to be advantageous as in Twelve Apostles, twelve months in a year, twelve zodiac signs, etc. Fear of Friday the 13th is called Friggatriskaidekaphobia and if you can say that you probably shouldn’t fear it.

I don’t remember anything particularly bad happening to me on a Friday the 13th and I don’t watch those movies… I have a hard enough time with my own nightmares, I really don’t need someone else's, thank you.

Don't Cry Over Spilt Salt

Salt

If you spill salt, throw it over your left shoulder in order to blind or distract the devil, who is supposedly lurking over your shoulder. Isn’t that kind of creepy?

Used to be that salt was a commodity and somewhat hard to come by. It was traded like currency and so was valuable… more than it is today. So throwing some over your shoulder to blind the devil was an extravagant waste, but then so was spilling it.

Shooting Star

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Make a Wish

Shooting stars are considered good luck to grant wishes because back in the 1st century, Ptolemy theorized that shooting stars happened when the gods peered down upon the Earth, and since you had their attention it was the perfect time to ask a favor or wish. I still make wishes on shooting stars or meteorites... perhaps I should grow up... but I'm having too much fun.

Actors

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Opposite World

Saying “Break a leg” to actors instead of good luck is apparently an American origin that dates back to the 1920s when actors thought to wish them good luck was bad luck. It seems thespians believe in opposite world.

Blow

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Dandelion Puff

Making a wish and blowing on a dandelion puff is supposed to ward off diseases caused by fairies, although I have no idea what diseases those are.

Cross Your Fingers

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Crosses

The early Christians popularized crossing your fingers because they associated it with the Cross, and that’s good luck. Although, telling a lie with your fingers crossed is supposed to keep you from getting into trouble for telling a lie. Not sure how that logic happened.

Bride

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Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

A bride needing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue dates back to an 1898 English rhyme which adds you have to put a sixpence in your shoe (seems like that would make it hard to walk down the aisle), all for good luck.

Unlucky

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Wedding Day

The bride should never see the groom on the wedding day before the ceremony because it was thought to see him would give her cold feet. However, I always heard that it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride, not the other way around. When did we mix that up?

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The Ring

Dropping the ring during the wedding ceremony is supposedly a bad omen and whoever drops it will probably die first. No idea where this superstition originated but it is depressing. My brother-in-law’s brother and best man fainted during my sister’s wedding ceremony; who is that bad luck for? I'm sure it didn't do him any good at the time.

Carried

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Tripping

Carrying a bride over the threshold came about because a bride tripping on the threshold was considered bad luck for the marriage, so the broom avoided that by carrying her over. Now if the groom trips, that would be bad for both, I’m thinking.

No Staring

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Pregnant

My grandmother used to say that a pregnant woman should never stare too long at anything or anyone because that would “mark” her baby. This was probably some ancient sad attempt to explain birthmarks or birth defects.

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Get Up

Getting out of a bed on the same side you got in is good, but misfortune follows those who get out of bed on the wrong side (or the side they didn’t get into bed on).

Robin

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The Birds

A bird flying into a house through an open window is a bad omen. The saying goes that a robin flying into a room will be followed by death. I don’t know. I’ve had a few birds fly into my house before and even a bat or two and didn’t experience any deaths in the family for decades afterward. How long after a bird flies into the house do you blame the death on it? Is that a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? Maybe that’s where he got the movie concept idea… Creepy!

Old Broom

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New Broom

Never take a broom with you when you move. Always throw it away and get a new broom for a new home. Actually, it was probably time for a new broom anyway!

The List

The list could go on and on. These are only a few that I found interesting and some I even followed thinking they were only traditions and not superstitions. Still, it’s hard to know the difference. I hope you enjoyed the trip down history lane with me.

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