November 15, 2010

Sichi-Go-San – Japan

The name of this holiday means “seven-five-three.” It is a rite of passage and a festival day honoring the passage to middle childhood for five- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys. Children wear kimonos or other formal wear, are taken to shrines, and are often photographed. Kids are also given Chitose Ame, or thousand-year candy. Don't worry, the candy isn't 1,000 years old! Instead, this long, thin candy symbolizes a long life and healthy growth. The candy is wrapped in thin, clear rice paper that is edible, and it is given to kids in bags decorated with cranes and turtles—which also represent long life.

One reason that ages 3, 5, and 7 are recognized with this festival is that, according to an old Japanese tradition, odd numbers are said to be lucky. People who play games such as dice game often think of some numbers as being especially lucky or unlucky. Can you think of any superstitions you have heard about certain numbers?


Some people fear the number 13. (This fear or phobia has the 7-syllable name above.)

There are some ancient traditions that explain the linkage of the number 13 with evil. For example, ancient Persians had a tradition that the number 13 is associated with chaos, and the 13th day of the Persian calendar is associated with bad luck. An old Christian tradition suggests that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth to sit down to the “last supper.” An old Norse tradition suggests that the shape-shifting, troublesome Loki (who was said to be the thirteenth god of the Vikings) was the thirteenth guest at the funeral of Balder, the god of beauty and light—a god Loki had conspired to have murdered.

From these and probably other ancient beginnings rose a superstition that, if 13 people come together in a group, one of them will soon die. Friday the thirteenth is famously thought of as an unlucky day—and to some a day associated with evil.

Some people will not rent an apartment number 13 or stay on the thirteenth floor of a hotel. Because of this, some builders skip the number 13 when labeling floors. As a matter of fact, almost no hotel in Las Vegas (a city that is all about numbers and luck) has a floor labeled "13." However, I have always thought that the thirteenth floor is still the thirteenth floor, even if it is labeled "14" on the elevator!

In 1881, a group of influential New Yorkers decided to put an end to such silly superstitions. They formed the Thirteen Club, and on their first meeting, on Friday the 13th, January 1881, at 8:13 p.m., thirteen people sat down to dinner in Room 13 of a club. Guests entered the room by walking under a ladder, and there were piles of spilled salt here and there.

Everyone survived, and the Thirteen Club thrived. Soon other Thirteen Clubs sprung up all over the United States and held meetings for the next forty years. Interest in the clubs faded out...but, then again, belief in superstitions about numbers has been fading, too. (I think. I hope!)

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