Superstitions in Italy

Superstitions exist in all cultures and anyone can name a few. Bringing bad luck: a black cat crossing the street in front of you. Or walk under a ladder. A four-leaf clover or horseshoe, on the other hand, brings luck. Although superstition does not play such a big role in the Netherlands, you will notice that superstition, i.e. superstition, is taken a lot more seriously in Italy. Below are the most talked-about superstitions in Italy!

The number 17

Unlike in the Netherlands, the number 13 in Italy does not bring bad luck. There it is the number 17 that would bring mischief. This has to do with the fact that the number 17 in Roman numerals is written as XVII which is an anagram of VIXI. Literally translated, it means 'I have lived' and this phrase was widely used on tombstones. The number 17 is said to be associated with death.

In Italy it is therefore important to watch out for Friday the 17th and avoid the number as much as possible. So don't be surprised that number 17 is often missing in, for example, hotel rooms, in the rows of seats on planes of Italian companies or in house numbers. It even goes so far that Renault has released the R17 model in Italy as R177 for fear of a negative impact on sales results due to the number 17.

Old and new

The transition from the old year to the new is, of course, ideally suited to superstitious rituals that ward off disaster and bring good luck into the new year. On New Year's Eve it is important to eat as many lentils, dates and grapes as possible because they symbolize prosperity and would ensure that you will be warm in the new year. In Abruzzo it is even customary to eat seven different soups of legumes, in order to increase your chances of prosperity exponentially.

Clean slate

Don't be surprised if you see all kinds of objects flying out of windows in the south of Italy on December 31. In the south of the country, especially in Naples, it is believed that throwing away old objects is a symbol of throwing away bad luck and unpleasant memories. By tossing these out the window you make a clean slate for the new year.

Anti-Evil sign

Do you need a quick dose of luck but don't have a four-leaf clover or horseshoe to hand? Anti-Evil sign is the pre-eminent way in Italy to avert bad luck and this is usually accompanied by a hand gesture: the index finger and little finger remain extended and the other fingers are bent inwards. Point your hand downwards, because if you point your hand upwards, you will be unfaithfully cursing your interlocutor through his or her partner and you will certainly not make friends with that!


If you're not quite sure about your dexterity in Italian gestures, it's better to play it safe and buy a copy of the well-known red cone. Il corno rosso is shaped like a red pepper and is a talisman that averts bad luck. The Italians carry the horn with them, for example by attaching it to the bunch of keys. You also see them often hung on the rear-view mirror in the car, in this way the horn would protect the car against accident(s).

Friday and Tuesday

In Italy it is better not to do some things on Tuesday or Friday. The proverb that damns these two days goes like this:Nè di Venere nè di Marte, non si sposa non si parte, nè si dà principio all'arte'. So on these days it is better not to get married, embark on a journey or start a new project. Tuesday (Tuesday in Italian) brings bad luck because this day is named after the god Mars, the god of war. There are several theories about Friday. One is that this day brings bad luck because this is the death day of Jesus. 

Alluring Venus

Another theory is that Friday is named after Venus and in addition to her positive side as a goddess of love, a negative trait of this goddess is the fact that she can also deceive. Friday would therefore be a misleading day. Fortunately for the Italians, the week has five other days on which these actions may be performed. And if it is absolutely necessary to travel on Tuesday or Friday, then as a talisman one should pull a dog's hair (preferably red in color) and carry it with him.

Superstitious dining etiquette

There are also rules that must be followed at the table so as not to bring bad luck to you. Although the number 13 is not an unlucky number in Italy, a table set for thirteen people is still ominous. This is reminiscent of the Last Supper. Therefore, always set the table for fourteen people. 

Salt and oil

Also watch out with the cutlery, this should not cross because this refers to the crucifixion of Jesus and this brings bad luck. As if it wasn't complicated enough, it's also important not to spill oil or salt at the table. This also brings bad luck. Don't worry, if it does happen, you avert the accident by throwing a little salt over your left shoulder. If you have spilled oil, throw some salt over the oil spill.

Do you perhaps know any Italian additions to this list of superstitions? Then we would love to hear from you!

Photos: Andrew Carbone (Flickr)