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Today is Friday the 13th and for most people that is a most ominous day however, for me, the idea of the 13th has never been a superstitious one for me. Maybe it’s because I’m part Italian. Italians, while insanely superstitious, actually consider 13 a lucky number. They are absolutely terrified of the number 17 however, and you almost never find that number used. You can bet that if they ever build buildings that high they will skip the 17th floor.
Italians have a lot of strange superstitions and I encountered many of them daily while living in Rome. One of the most ancient superstitions is the wearing of a chili pepper in order to ward off evil. Back in the ancient roman times they wouldn’t wear chili peppers though, instead the would wear phalluses or display them prominently outside their homes to ward off the evil eye. The phallus was supposed to give fertility and luck to the wearer while also keeping the evil eye at bay. Eventually the phallic symbol evolved into the chili pepper since once the Catholic Church came to power it was deemed unseemly to wear such graphic symbols around one’s neck. You can see most Italians carry some sort of chili pepper or horn to ward off evil. All the Italians I knew had them on key chains or hanging from their rear view mirror.
Many superstitions have to do with warding off evil and are religious based. Italians will make the sign of the horns with their fingers to ward off the evil eye or the devil or both. The sign looks exactly like the Texas longhorns sign if you know American college football. Often times you will see this sign being made surreptitiously to ward off evil in public. Italians also believe that touching iron is lucky and often carry around a small nail to touch in case anything causes them bad luck, like black cats. This is definitely an issue while in Rome since there are so many cats.
Italians also avoid seating 13 people at a table. They have no problem with the number 13 except in this context. 13 people is an unlucky number to have seated together because the Last Supper had thirteen people seated around a table and we all know how well that worked out for Jesus.
Perhaps the most common superstitions I encountered had to do with the weather or more specifically the air. Italians are terrified of the air. If there is a light breeze in 90• weather they automatically put on a sweater. If the air conditioning is on at a restaurant they open the door. If you want to get out of doing something all you have to say is you don’t feel well because of l’aria (the air) and it may cause a febbre (a fever). It works like a charm, I promise.
One of my favorite superstitions has to do with Mount Vesuvius. It is claimed that mount Vesuvius will not erupt as long as a miracle occurs twice a year. The miracle is that at the church of San Gennaro there is a vial of Saint Jennarius’ blood. Twice a year, once in May and once in September, the vial miraculously changes from a solid to a liquid. When this occurs it means that Mount Vesuvius will not erupt and no harm will befall Naples.
These are just a few of the superstitions I encountered while in Italy. There are thousands of them and some are very regional while some, almost everyone believes in such as spilling salt spells bad luck and that to ensure good luck you must keep eye contact with those you are cheers-ing. Overall though the Italians are some of the most superstitious people I’ve met and I will be thinking of them on this lucky Friday the 13th.
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