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Every country has their own culture. Delving into that culture is one of the reasons I enjoy travel. And every country has their own superstitions.
On my trip to Italy in 2017, accompanied by my daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan, I experienced one of Italy’s good luck traditions first hand. That funny and somewhat startling event inspired me to discover more.
Here are 10 good luck traditions from Italy.
The Importance of Learning Culture
After doing my research, I wish I’d known more about these Italian superstitions before my trip. Why? Because knowing them prevents inadvertently offending with my actions or inaction. Or at the least, keeps me from appearing insensitive or ignorant.
Superstitious traditions are woven throughout culture, even if they are no longer perceived in the same way that ancestors believed. The United States observes many superstitions that have become part of our culture. Knocking on wood, beginner’s luck, and find a penny, pick it up all come to mind. Some superstitions are almost universal. Black cats can’t catch a break anywhere because of their supposed association with witches long ago.
The following good luck traditions from Italy are fun to know and carry importance because they teach us more about the Italian people.
Pooped on by a Bird
This is the superstition I had the honor of experiencing!
While our wonderful tour guide Fabiola completed purchases to surprise us with later, the group settled on benches outside the gate of the medieval village of San Gimignano. A large leafy tree provided ample shade as we chatted about our exploration of the village.
As Fabiola strolled toward us with her bags, we gathered our belongings and prepared to board the bus. Suddenly I felt something hit me, on the shoulder and arm. Looking up, I spied a bird directly above me in the tree. Glancing back at my arm, I realized that bird pooped on me.
I made a sound of disgust. However, Fabi and some of the others cheered and clapped their hands.
When a bird poops on you in Italy, it is a symbol of good luck. It means you’ve been singled out for good fortune. Visiting a casino is considered the next best move after such a blessing from above.
People came up to me and rubbed my shoulder, to transfer my good fortune to themselves. One dear woman handed me a package of wipes. Bless her.
Tocco Ferro – Touch Iron
In the US we knock on wood for good luck. In Italy, they touch iron. Some even carry a nail with them so that iron always remains within reach. A rusty nail is especially lucky. And like Americans, a metal horseshoe hung on or above a door, with the open ends pointing up, brings good luck to the household.
Carry a Cornicello Charm
A cornicello resembles a small horn or chili pepper. It represents the horns of the Old European Moon Goddess. Cornicellos are sold predominately in the Naples area, although they are available throughout Italy.
Carrying or wearing a cornicello protects from the curse of the Evil Eye, which is the look a jealous or envious person gives, and from bad luck in general. The charms also hang from the rearview mirrors of vehicles, based on the older custom of using them to protect draft horses, and in houses.
Cornicello also refers to a hand gesture in Italy, used similarly to ward off evil. Gold and silver hand charms are sold as well.
Lucky Number 13
The Italians consider 13 a very lucky number. It is associated with the Goddess of Fertility and represents prosperity and abundance.
However, the Italians have their unlucky number too. For them, the number 17 is extremely unlucky. The Roman numerals XVII rearrange to create the word VIXI, an Italian word for “I have lived”. That phrase is commonly used on tombstones and therefore, connected with death.
Bocca al Lupo – In the Mouth of the Wolf
The Italians don’t like to say the words “good luck” to each other. Similar to the American expression “break a leg” which is another way of saying good luck, the Italians say “bocca al lupo”. This expression means “in the mouth of the wolf”. The correct response is “crepi”, which means “let it die” or “wolf, die”.
Spilling Salt or Olive Oil
Many cultures believe the superstition that spilling salt brings bad luck. One origin story suggests that at one time, salt was a valuable commodity. Spilling it created waste and perhaps bad luck followed such misfortune.
And consider da Vinci’s The Last Supper. In that painting Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, is portrayed as knocking over the salt container. And no one wants an association with Judas.
In Italy it’s considered unfortunate if you spill salt OR olive oil. To counter the effects, one must toss the spilled salt over the left shoulder and dab olive oil behind each ear.
Speaking of salt, Italians may bless their homes by putting salt in the corners. Salt cleanses the house by absorbing any negative energy or toxins.
Leave the salt for a few hours and then vacuum or sweep it up.
This tradition connects to houses as well. Sweep away old bad luck when moving into a new home, using a brand new broom. Just don’t sweep over the feet of a single person. If you do, he or she may never be swept off their feet by love.
Good Luck Herbs
In Italy herbs assist with creating good luck.
Bay laurel leaves protect wearers from bad luck while helping them fulfill their dreams. Graduates often still wear laurel leaf crowns to represent good fortune. The bay laurel leaf symbolizes acquired wisdom as well.
And basil wards off poverty, which many consider an evil.
New Year’s Eve Traditions
These two Italian New Year’s Eve traditions sound intriguing!
After Christmas, red underwear, for men and women, goes on sale. These garments, worn on New Year’s Eve only, bring good luck for the upcoming year. Red is the color of fertility as well and important to couples hoping for a baby in the new year.
And the Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve. The coin like shape of the lentils represents money and prosperity for the upcoming year.
Favorite Good Luck Traditions
Did you know about these superstitions, popular in Italy? I enjoyed learning more about them. The warm, friendly people of Italy sprinkle many expressions throughout their language, that beautifully capture life. I love their perspectives and their traditions.
I know I have readers from around the world. What good luck traditions do you practice? I’d love to know!
Researching Italian good luck traditions for this blog post brought fortune my way. Inspiration compels me to write another post, perfect for the end of the year. Perhaps the bird poop blessing continues…
Check out these other Tales from Italy posts:
Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David
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