Why Do Italians Consider Friday the 17th Unlucky?

The Origin of Friday the 17th Superstitions in Italy

Close up of Red Horseshoe on Wooden Wall
It's said that a horseshoe will bring good luck when kept as a talisman.

Andrea Paoletti / EyeEm / Getty Images

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

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 that translates to "I have lived," which can be understood as, "My life is over."

In the Old Testament of the Bible, it’s said that the great flood happened on the 17th of the second month. Additionally, Friday is considered unlucky because "Venerdì Santo" (Good Friday) was the day of Jesus’ death.

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

A Reason to Stay Home

Many in Italy take the day off from work on Friday the 17th to avoid leaving the house. Nor do they hold important meetings, get married, or make any major decisions on that day. Others carry around lucky charms, called "i portafortuna"—much like a rabbit’s foot—on Friday the 17th. Italians also carry charms, such as a small, red horn pendant, a horseshoe, or an old hunchbacked man, in their pockets or bags—or place them strategically in their homes. These luck charms all derive 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!"—Neither on a Friday nor on Tuesday does one marry, leave, or start something!

The superstition even affects businesses: The Italian airline carrier, Alitalia, does not have a seat No. 17 in the same way that many hotels in America don’t include the 13th floor. Renault sold its "R17" model in Italy as "R177," and at the Cesana Pariol bobsled, luge, and skeleton track in Cesana, Italy, turn No. 17 is labeled "Senza Nome" (nameless).

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, with the Italian word or phrase on the left and the English translation on the right.

  • 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)
  • Tredici - Thirteen
  • Diciassette - Seventeen
  • Venerdì - Friday
  • 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
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Filippo, Michael San. "Why Do Italians Consider Friday the 17th Unlucky?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/unlucky-friday-the-17th-3972380. Filippo, Michael San. (2020, November 28). Why Do Italians Consider Friday the 17th Unlucky? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/unlucky-friday-the-17th-3972380 Filippo, Michael San. "Why Do Italians Consider Friday the 17th Unlucky?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/unlucky-friday-the-17th-3972380 (accessed August 6, 2021).