As we celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, we thought we’d reflect not just on the “luck of the Irish” but how they and other cultures celebrate the idea of luck.
China: Is it lucky number 7 or number 8? Depends on who you ask! In western cultures, we like number 7. Probably because the ancient Greeks called 7 “the perfect number,” the sum of 3 (triangle) and 4 (square). If you ask the Chinese, it’s the number 8 that is your best friend because the word for “8” and “prosperity” are very similar. Conversely, while 13 is an unlucky number in the west, in East Asia, 4 is the number to avoid!
Germany: Glückskaefer (lucky lady bug) und Glücksschwein (lucky pig)! As you have probably surmised, “Glück” means “luck” in German (and “glücklich” means happy so it’s all connected). The Glücksschwein is a symbol of prosperity and often shared to wish friends and family a happy and prosperous new year. If a Glückskaefer lands on you, it’s said to be good luck so don’t shoo him away!
Brazil: Fita do Senhor do Bonfim (Bonfim’s Ribbon): these colorful ribbons are originally from Bahia (northeast state of Brazil) and are used to attract luck. When you tie the ribbon to your wrist, you should make a wish for each of the three knots.
Italy: In Italy it’s bad luck to wish someone good luck. Similar to our “break a leg” the Italians say: In bocca al lupo! (Into the mouth of the wolf!) and the response is always “crepi!” (May it die!). It was originally an expression used between hunters, then moved to theater circles and then became part of the general vernacular.
Norway: Viking legend has it that if you put an acorn on the window sill, you will protect your home from lightning aka Thor.
Ireland and many others: We would be remiss if we did not discuss the lucky symbol associated with St Patrick’s day, the four-leafed clover! Normally clovers also known as shamrocks (from the Irish seamróg) have 3 leaves. In Poland, your run-of-the-mill 3-leaf clover is considered enough to be lucky. Most cultures who consider the clover as a symbol of luck hold out for the rarer (1 in 10,000) 4-leaf variety. According to one legend Saint Patrick used the Shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish and has subsequently become a national symbol. According to another legend, Eve took a four-leafed clover with her to remind her of the lushness of Eden. Yet another legend claims the Druids collected them because of the rarity.