Superstitions exist in every culture. They’re meant to help us bring positive things into our lives – either by summoning ‘good’ aspects or avoiding ‘bad’ ones.
In our modern world, most people recognize that old wives’ tales and myths aren’t true. At the same time, we often believe and practice widely accepted superstitions – without giving them a second thought. We call them traditions.
Over time, these superstitious customs become deeply embedded in our lives and cultures. And after a while, no one even questions why we practice such traditions.
So, here are some of the superstitions you practice without realizing!
1. Saying Bless You When Someone Sneezes
Telling someone “bless you” after a sneeze is a quick reflex that many people possess. It’s customary to respond to a sneeze. So much so that if you fail to bless someone, they may get offended.
But why are we so compelled to say these words to anyone who sneezes?
Well, there are a few superstitious theories on why the sneeze, specifically, calls for a “bless you.” The most popular began in Rome when the bubonic plague ravaged the population – and one of the symptoms of the disease was sneezing.
Pope Gregory I believed that saying “God bless you” after a sneeze, would protect people from death. There is another theory that stems from ancient history. It used to be believed that a sneeze could accidentally expel someone’s spirit from their body.
Fortunately, God could prevent it with this small blessing. Others believed that sneezes expelled unwanted evil spirits. This was good for the sneezer, but it put others at risk. Blessing everyone around was a safety precaution.
2. Knocking On Wood
We’ve all come across this one, too. It’s tradition to give some wood a knock after speaking about your own good fortune.
The point is to preserve your luck. Even though some people replace the literal knocking with the phrase “knock on wood” – the tradition carries on. But where did this come from in the first place?
For centuries, pagan groups and various cultures around the world worshipped trees. They believed that trees represented oracles, held spirits, or helped them commune with their gods and goddesses.
Thus, trees became important mythological entities, and they were incorporated into worship rituals. For the ancient Celts, trees housed important spirits and gods. Knocking on tree trunks became a way to rouse those spirits and ask for protection.
This practice could also show gratitude to the spirits or serve as a request for good luck. Another possible source of the “knock on wood” tradition is the superstition that tapping trees or wood could chase away evil spirits to prevent them from listening in when someone boasts about their good fortune.
It became a way to avoid bad luck. Knocking on wood began as a religious superstition, but it has transitioned into a cultural phenomenon that acknowledges luck and hope.
3. Putting Candles On A Birthday Cake
Birthday candles are so typical that no one ever bats an eye when it’s time to dim the lights and sing the song. This tradition actually began with the Ancient Greeks – who put candles on cakes as a special offering for Artemis – the goddess of the moon and the hunt.
Round cakes symbolized the moon, and the candles represented moonlight. In Germany, candles on cakes were popularized for religious reasons as well. One large candle would burn at the center of the cake to symbolize the “light of life.”
Some scholars suggest that candles on cakes had other purposes as well. Some believe that the candle smoke was meant to carry wishes or prayers to the gods in the heavens.
The smoke may have also been meant to ward off evil spirits. Even though birthday candles don’t carry religious weight to them today, we still hold superstitious beliefs about them.
How many times have you wished on your birthday candles? And were you wary of sharing your wish? The birthday rules govern that a silent wish must be made and that the candles need to be blown out in one breath for the wish to come true.
4. Wearing Wedding Rings On The Left Ring Finger
Most people wear their wedding rings on the left ring finger. Have you ever wondered why? This is another tradition that traces back to our ancient ancestors.
People used to believe that the left ring finger had a vein that connected directly to the heart. The early Romans called it the Vena Amoris – the vein of love.
When worn on the proper finger, a ring could connect two lovers’ hearts. So, this heart-to-ring connection solidified the formal union of marriage and symbolized the couple’s, shared love.
Although the Vena Amoris in our left hand is romantic and symbolic, we know now that we possess venous connections to the heart in every single finger we have.
Even though science has shattered the foundation of this tradition, our superstitions hold true – wedding rings must be worn in a specific way to symbolize two lovers’ commitment.
5. Clinking Glasses To Toast
Whether you’re sitting around the dinner table or standing by the bar, a quick toast is ordinary and fun. We don’t usually think about why we say “cheers” or clink our glasses together. We just do it.
The history behind this has been long forgotten by most. But why do we clink glasses, toast, or say “cheers”? Predictably, some of these traditions also originate from the religious superstitions of the Greeks and Romans.
During celebrations, they would raise their glasses before drinking – to offer wine to their gods – hoping for good favor and thanking the higher powers. The expression of toasting, however, comes from a later time period.
During the Elizabethan era, people would literally put toast in their wine. The bread would soak up the wines’ acidity, resulting in a more palatable drink.
It was especially common if the wine was of poor quality. Finally, clinking glasses together could stem from several superstitions. Some believe that early Europeans hoped to drive off evil spirits with the sound.
Others think that the clinking was meant to slosh some of the drinker’s beverage into another’s cup – ensuring that the drink wasn’t poisoned. Either way, clinking glasses became a symbol of trust and honesty – as well as good health and fortune.
6. Dressing Up / Trick-Or-Treating On Halloween
Did you know that Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain? It occurs on the exact same day, the 31st of October.
This day was important to the Celts because it marked the seasonal change. But that wasn’t the only special thing about this time. Samhain was also significant because the boundary between the living and the dead thinned during the seasonal pivot.
They believed it became possible to commune with the dead. Because of this belief, the early pagan holiday involved ritualistic ceremonies to connect the living to the spirits.
Although much is left unknown about the celebrations of Samhain, it is widely accepted that the Celts wore costumes – such as animal hides – to disguise themselves from ghosts.
They also feasted, and created lanterns from turnips to ward off unwanted visitors. It’s easy to see how translations of these superstitions exist in modern culture.
After all, Halloween is all about candy, jack-o’-lanterns, costumes, and parties. Although the holiday still exists, the pagan meanings became mere undertones or myths.
Halloween remains a part of pop culture – but with more modernized traditions.
7. Kissing On New Year’s Eve
New Year’s kisses have existed since the 8th century BC. This loving celebration is extremely popular, but why did it start?
Unsurprisingly, we’ve found ourselves with the Romans. Historians date kissing on New Year’s back to the Ancient Roman celebrations of the festival of Saturnalia.
In fact, kissing was a fairly harmless activity compared to the other debauchery that occurred at these parties… Over time, the tradition of kissing trickled down to the rest of Europe.
English and German folklore embraced the loving tradition, turning it into a superstition. Some still believe that your first interaction with another person in the new year will set the tone for the rest of your year.
So, going into the new year with a kiss should manifest happy and loving experiences. It’s meant to strengthen your relationships moving forward – and if you don’t have anyone to kiss, it’s bad luck.
This has created the phenomenon of strangers looking to lock lips as the old year times out. Some single people will do whatever it takes to find someone to kiss – hoping to avoid a miserable year of loneliness.
The transition into the new year can also mark renewal. For hundreds of years, Europeans have held masquerade balls for New Year’s Eve.
The masks are meant to symbolize evil spirits, and when the new year rolls in, lovers remove their masks and kiss in a performance of purification.
Although most kiss today for the purpose of pleasure rather than the superstitious fear of bad luck, the belief that a new year’s kiss can cause positive experiences in the future is still common.
8. Crossing Your Fingers For Good Luck
In the Western world, crossed fingers are one of the most widely recognized hand signals. We even have an emoji for them. They’re meant to give you luck or to signal hope that things will go well for someone else.
Most think that these twisted fingers originate from pre-Christian pagans. They held the cross symbol in high regard – believing that it embodied a high concentration of strength, positive energy, and good spirits.
Hence, crossed fingers could give you the strength of deities. Later, Christians used the gesture to represent a Crucifix and ward off evil. It also became a way for Christians to secretly identify themselves during times they were persecuted for their beliefs.
Whether we’re honest about it or not, we all have some small practices that we do to bring good fortune and avoid negativity. As long as our traditions don’t do more harm than good, there’s nothing wrong with having them.
Even if they’re irrational or illogical, our beliefs can imbue us with the confidence to overcome challenges, boost our performance, and relieve our anxiety and stress. ¬ What do you think? Were you surprised about the superstitious meanings behind these common practices? Share your thoughts and comments below.