Unlucky Friday the 17th

Learn why 17 is an unlucky number in Italy

Close Up Of Red Horseshoe On Wooden Wall
Close Up Of Red Horseshoe On Wooden Wall. Andrea Paoletti / EyeEm / Getty Images

When Friday the 13th comes around in the Western world, people start talking about possibilities of unlucky things happening, and while the superstition runs deep in many countries, including America, Finland, and the Philippines, you won’t find anyone in Italy stressing out about the number 13. In fact, the number 13 is actually considered good luck!

That’s because in Italian culture, the number 17—not 13—is considered unlucky, and when it comes to Friday the 17th, some would even call it “un giorno nero - a black day”.

So why all the fuss about Friday the 17th?

Why 17 Is Considered Unlucky

Some believe that this belief started in Ancient Rome because when the number 17 is viewed as the Roman numeral XVII, and then changed anagrammatically to VIXI, it reminds Italians of the Latin language phrase which translates to "I have lived", which can be understood as, "My life is over".

What’s more, in the Old Testament of the Bible, it’s said that the great flood happened on the 17th of the second month.

So why Friday? It’s said that Friday is considered unlucky because of Venerdì Santo, known as Good Friday, which was the day of the Jesus’s death.

Furthermore, the unluckiest day of all would be if Friday the 17th fell in November because November the 2nd is memorial day to the deceased in Italy. This surprisingly beautiful holiday is called All Souls’ Day and directly follows All Saints’ Day on November 1st. When that occurs, November is called "the month of the deceased".

Here is a list of other Italian holidays throughout the year.

How Strong Is the Superstition?

To what extent do Italians avoid the number 17?

While many people won’t bat an eye at the seemingly unlucky date, there are many who will take the day off of work to avoid leaving the house, won’t have any important meetings, get married, or make any important decisions.

There are others who carry around lucky charms, called i portafortuna, like a rabbit’s foot. Italians also carry charms, like a small, red horn pendant, a horseshoe, or an old hunchbacked man in their pockets, bags or homes, which are all derived from the Neapolitan tradition. You may hear a proverb, like Né di venere, né di marte ci si sposa, né si parte, né si da principio all'arte!" It means “Not on Friday nor on Tuesday one marries, one leaves, or one starts something”.

When it comes to businesses, the Italian airline carrier, Alitalia, does not have a seat 17 in the same way that many hotels in America don’t include a thirteenth floor. Renault sold its "R17" model in Italy as "R177." Finally at the Cesana Pariol the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track in Cesana, Italy, turn 17 is named "Senza Nome."

Important Vocabulary:

Here are some key vocabulary words, so you can bring unlucky Friday the 17th up as a topic with your Italian friends and family.

  • Portare sfortuna - To bring bad luck

  • Il portafortuna - Lucky charm

  • La sfortuna/sfiga - Bad luck

  • La zampa di coniglio - Rabbit’s foot

  • L’Antica Roma - Ancient Rome

  • I superstiziosi - Superstitious (people)

  • Thirteen - Tredici

  • Seventeen - Diciassette

  • Friday - Venerdì

  • Un giorno sfortunato - An unlucky day

  • La bibbia - The bible

  • L’Antico Testamento - The Old Testament

  • Il diluvio universale - The great flood

  • Le leggende - Legends

  • Le credenze - Beliefs

  • I miti - Myths

  • Il Giorno dei Morti - All Souls’ Day

  • La Festa di Ogni Santi - All Saints’ Day