10 Good Luck Traditions From Around the World
“Alexa, play ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk.”
Who among us couldn’t do with a little extra luck in our lives? Through centuries and across the world, people have developed symbols, practices, and charms to win over Lady Luck. From throwing dinner plates at your friend’s house to wearing a wooden phallus from your waist, here are a few traditions from around the world that are said to bring good fortune.
Sign of the Horns
In Italy, the “sign of the horns” is made when you find yourself in an already unlucky or unfortunate situation in order to ward off any further bad luck or the “evil eye.” The gesture is usually made with the fingers pointing downward, a difference that helps distinguish it from the other meaning that comes with the corna in Italy. When the gesture is made with the “horns” facing upward, it carries a ruder meaning (essentially, it implies the person on the other side of the gesture is a cuckold). Relatedly, the cornicello charm, which is shaped like a single bull horn, can also be worn to attract good luck.
The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) first started appearing in the latter part of the Edo Period. These figures depict a cat with a raised paw as if they’re cleaning their face or waving (hence “beckoning”) you to come over. There are a couple of folk stories about how the figures were originally inspired. One involves a lord that was saved from lightning by a cat waving him over to take shelter in a temple. A second one tells of a geisha who was saved when her cat was mistakenly beheaded by her companion which then sent the severed cat head flying, hitting and killing a snake that was about to strike the geisha. Another attributes maneki-neko’s inspiration to a stray that, after being fed by a shop owner, sits outside their human savior’s shop to wave in potential customers. The design of each figure imbues the cat with a different meaning. A raised left paw attracts customers, a raised right paw brings good luck. A calico patterned cat brings good luck, black wards off evil spirits, and green is for good health.
Throwing Plates at Friends’ Houses
Under different circumstances, your nearest and dearest might not appreciate waking up on New Year’s Day and finding the shattered remains of your old tableware littering your doorstep. But in Denmark, chucking plates at your friends’ and family’s houses on New Year’s Eve is simply a way of wishing them prosperity in the year to come.
The palad khik (which literally translates to “honorable surrogate penis”) is a popular amulet that’s carved to depict a penis. These amulets range in size and design and while they represent fertility they also bring good luck, increase your chances of winning when gambling, and provides protection. They are often worn on a cord around the waist but they can also be seen in shops where they’re good luck when it comes to business.
For some, enduring the deployment of a pun will leave them feeling distinctly unlucky. (Some people just have no appreciation for wordplay!) In Chinese Mandarin, however, there’s a tradition of pairing lucky words with homophonic objects. For example, in Mandarin, “abundance” and “fish” are homophonous with each other. So the phrase, “There will be abundance every year” can also be, “There will be fish every year,” which in turn leads to a tradition wherein fish is frequently eaten to celebrate the New Year.
Scattering Coins in a New House
WHERE: The Philippines
Anyone who’s ever moved from an old home to a new one is well acquainted with the myriad of surprise expenses that pop up. So once you make it to your new place, you’re going to want all the help you can get with recouping all those moving expenses. When you make it to your new place, make sure you have a handful of change ready to go. In the Philippines, it’s tradition to scatter coins across the living room of a new home in order to bring about prosperity to the new residents.
Getting Hit by Bird Droppings
Have you ever had the misfortune to be out for a walk, minding your own terrestrial-bound business only to become the unknowing target of a bird’s mid-air bathroom break? In Russia, that just means there’s good luck coming your way. This isn’t the only Russian good luck superstition that puts a positive spin on a less-than-happy event. It’s also considered good luck to encounter a funeral procession.
The galdrastafir (which translates to “magical staves”) are magical sigils that have been recorded over the centuries in grimoires a.k.a. spellbooks. These sigils would typically be inscribed on walking sticks or staffs (hence the “staves” part), but can be part of clothing or be used as designs of tattoos. Each galdrastafir has its own specific purpose and meaning attached to it so they can be used to ensure everything from good luck to protection in battle. (They can also be used to curse others.)
It’s (paradoxically) bad luck to wish a friend or fellow performer, “Good luck!” Instead, Australian thespians and dancers will simply declare, “Chookas!” The exact origin of the phrase isn’t known but one story makes a case that’s as convincing as any. Back in the proverbial day, chicken (also known as “chook” in Australian slang) was a pricier meal. If the theater was full, that meant they would make enough money to splurge on chicken for dinner leading to the declaration of “Chook it is!” This phrase then became shortened to “Chookas!”
WHERE: United Kingdom
While some people toss coins in wells or fountains, others have taken it upon themselves to hammer coins into trees in order to have their wishes granted. But, it isn’t just about getting rich quick. Putting a coin into a wishing tree is thought to clear up illness. Conversely, if you take a coin from a wishing tree, you’ll get sick. Note: Before you grab a hammer and a coin purse and head out into the woods, consider another way to find some good luck as conservationists have noted that even wedging coins in apparently dead trees can disrupt woodland ecosystems.