Friday the 13th: Germans are not afraid of the unlucky day

PEh, sorrow, misfortune – with Friday the 13th, mostly unsightly associations are linked. Are – or rather were? For cultural scientists, this superstition, which today is correctly called popular belief, is increasingly being forgotten in the minds of Germans.

The reason for this could be a mixture of secularization, digitization and a present that holds very real horrors in store, from pandemics to war in Europe. One phobiai.e. a pathological fear only of Friday the 13th, has never existed as an independent clinical picture anyway.

Gunther Hirschfelder, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Regensburg, has been researching the phenomenon of “Friday the 13th” for decades. In 2000, his students conducted in-depth interviews in the Rhineland. After all, around a third of the randomly selected respondents openly admitted that this day was important to them.

Hirschfelder considers a similar result to be unlikely today. “We don’t negotiate happiness and unhappiness like that anymore,” he says. Not as many people believed in higher powers as they used to. “Happiness and unhappiness for a lot of people today somehow means being healthy or not being wiped out on dating apps like Parship and Tinder,” adds the scientist.

Professor Gunther Hirschfelder from the University of Regensburg

Source: dpa

“Friday the 13th made a living from the fact that we went into the office in the leisurely days of the old Federal Republic or in the GDR and said that we had hit someone’s bumper with an iced-up car window,” says Hirschfelder. This was intended to initiate communication. “Similar to a joke culture.”

Digital world changes communication culture

In the digital world, however, where fewer people meet in person in offices, such low-threshold communication has almost become obsolete. You can’t post either. “And a dropped soda bottle is not enough for a Facebook scandal,” says Hirschfelder.

Is there a phenomenon where people stay in bed and call in sick out of sheer fear of Friday the 13th? an inquiry at the Commercial health insurance (KKH) shows that in the years 2006 to 2008 there were three to five times more sick leave than on other Fridays.

And today? The KKH, with around 1.6 million insured persons, scanned their data from the years 2019 to 2022 using a different method. The statistical picture on the supposed day of the accident is ambivalent. In the first Corona year 2020, the two Fridays that fell on a 13th occupied a conspicuous top spot among all Fridays of that year in terms of the number of sick leave reports.

In the years 2021 and 2022, in which a Friday fell on the 13th of each month, they were quite far behind with places 29 and 27. In 2019 – with two 13-day Fridays – came 9th place. phobias as a reason for sick leave were rare in all years.

Phobias can trigger panic

There is a tongue twister that describes the fear of Friday the 13th based on the Greek: paraskavedekatriaphobia. In the international classification system, however, this is not a recognized mental illness, explains Christina Jochim, deputy federal chair of the German Psychotherapists Association in Berlin. “It doesn’t exist like that.”

For science, phobias are symptom pictures that are based on verified data. “For example, phobias can trigger panic attacks when you get close to such a situation. So certain animals looks like spiders or dogs. When it comes to flying or going to the dentist,” adds Jochim.

Friday the 13th falls more into the magical thinking category. “Because this fear does not refer to a specific situation, but is anticipatory,” says the psychotherapist. “A kind of fear of fear.” That alone is very rare. “If so, then it usually arises in a context with a generalized anxiety disorder.”

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From her point of view, however, it is not a good idea to stay in bed on the supposed day of bad luck. “One thing that all anxiety disorders have in common is that avoidance leads to more anxiety,” she says. According to Jochim, today the day plays a smaller role in the general consciousness than it used to. “When the fear of Friday the 13th is less discussed, there is less reason to be afraid.”

For Hirschfelder, popular belief around Friday the 13th is surprisingly young in Germany. It is true that neither Fridays nor the number 13 have a good reputation in Christian culture: Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and the 13 went beyond the familiar system of twelve apostles, twelve hours or twelve months.

But the combination of both as an unlucky day has only been documented for Hirschfelder since the 1950s – and probably a cultural import from the USA. Because there some authors wanted to have discovered a connection with stock market crashes earlier.

“It is likely that this day will continue to lose importance,” speculates Hirschfelder. “Especially in what feels like times of catastrophe, it has little impact.” However, the field of superstition or popular belief is probably not generally declining. “Today it just no longer manifests itself in a bourgeois center.” In individual social contexts it continues to play a role. “In the migrant milieu, this has not yet been researched at all.”

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