What are the common British superstitions? As a nation, Britain is often surprisingly superstitious.
Whether it involves black cats, walking under ladders, breaking mirrors or lucky pants, it seems that a good proportion of British people believe in some form of superstition. In fact, a survey has suggested that more than 70% of persons over the age of 70 believe in some kind of superstition, while more than 50% of those aged 35 to 44 believe too.
On top of this, one in every five persons believes they own a ‘lucky’ piece of clothing, with men believing they have a pair of ‘lucky pants’ more often than women. Almost 60% of women believe that allowing the person they’re marrying to see their wedding gown before the wedding day will bring them bad luck.
Whether you believe in any superstitions yourself or not, it’s still fun to pretend, and we’ve made a list of some of the most commonly found British superstitions on this page. We’ve also looked into the history and meanings behind some of these superstitions, as it’s pretty interesting to see how these first developed and how they’ve changed over the years.
Superstitions in Britain: What Are Superstitions?
Britain has a long history, and over the centuries, lots of different superstitions have come and gone.
But what exactly is superstition, and where does it come from? The definition of superstition is a widely held belief that has no rational explanation and often involves the concept of good or bad luck.
Throughout history, people have looked for ways to explain events and the reasons for certain things happening, which has resulted in the development of superstitions.
Often, these beliefs are based on supernatural forces, a misunderstanding of probability and science or simply cautionary tales with historical significance.
British people have a lot of different superstitions that often govern people’s behaviour. They can often be associated with gambling or risk-taking, but equally, they can also be completely harmless fun. Lots of people in the UK happen to be superstitious, and their superstitions often combine with British expressions.
Common British Superstitions
What are the common British superstitions? The answer depends a lot on who you ask.
As a nation, we have plenty of superstitions, but as they tend to get passed down through families, they’re often tied to specific regions of the country.
As a result, what’s unlucky in some places could be lucky in others! Still, we’ve made a list of some of the most common British superstitions features and a bit of information about the history of each.
- The number 13 – The number 13 is considered unlucky in the UK and across lots of western countries. No one is exactly sure why this number is so feared, but some attribute it to the fact that Judas was the 13th guest to arrive at the last supper before Jesus was crucified. Our fear of the number 13 is so strong that many people avoid the number completely, and most streets skip straight from 12 to 14.
- Breaking a mirror – Breaking a mirror in the UK is thought to bring seven years of bad luck. This particular superstition is believed to come from Ancient Rome. The Romans believed that life renews itself every seven years, and any broken portions of your existence, such as health concerns, are repaired.
So, if a mirror shattered and your image was the last thing it reflected, you’d have to suffer through seven years of bad luck before the curse was lifted and good fortune was restored.
- Lucky clothing – Lots of people in the UK claim to have a particular item of clothing that brings them good luck. For a lot of people, it’s a pair of lucky pants, but many others have lucky socks or even a lucky shirt. Having lucky clothes seems to be more of a male thing, but plenty of women in the UK have also admitted to having a lucky piece of clothing.
- Walking under a ladder – Walking under a ladder is said to be extremely unlucky, and considering how potentially dangerous it could be, it’s easy to see why. If you walk under a ladder of someone painting, you’re likely to end up with paint on your head, and there’s also the chance you could knock the ladder over and cause a serious accident.
Food British Superstitions
Some of the most popular British superstitions are British superstitions about food and include:
- Salt – Spilling salt supposedly brings bad luck, and it will be seen as an invitation for the devil to come into your life. No one knows exactly how this superstition started, but it’s incredibly common across Europe, including France, Germany and of course, the UK. While spilling salt is unlucky, you can prevent anything bad from happening to you if you throw some over your shoulder.
- Garlic – Garlic is an excellent addition to pastas, soups and sauces, and it has a lot of uses in the kitchen. It’s also meant to bring a lot of health benefits, including lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. One thing that garlic has long been associated with is vampires and is said to help ward them away.
- Rice – Rice is a staple food in a lot of cultures, particularly in Asia but arrived in Britain in the mediaeval times due to trade links with the middle east. Apart from being part of a delicious meal, rice is said to bring fertility and prosperity when it’s thrown at a wedding. In the UK, rice is traditionally thrown over the bride and groom to wish them good luck in their future together.
Animal British Superstitions
The UK is home to many different species of animals, some more loved than others.
These creatures are often associated with good or bad luck, and some popular British superstitions about animals include:
- Black cats – Black cats have a strong association with witchcraft as they were said to be the pets of witches. As a result, they’re considered very unlucky in many places, although strangely, other people consider them to be good luck. If a black cat crosses your path, you may be about to experience something very lucky or unlucky, depending on who you ask.
- Magpies – Magpies are a type of bird that are related to crows and jackdaws. They’re incredibly intelligent birds with a distinctive call and are known for their love of stealing shiny things. Magpies are also seen by some in the UK as an omen, and depending on how many you see, it could be good luck or bad. There’s even a rhyme about them: “one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy”.
- Rabbits – Rabbits are commonly found all over the British countryside and can often be seen darting in and out of their burrows along embankments. These fluffy little creatures are said to be very lucky and, in the past, people used to carry around a rabbit’s foot for good luck.
Wedding British Superstitions
One of the most popular British things is a classic wedding. However, there are lots of British superstitions about weddings, including:
- The bride and groom can’t see each other before the wedding – Traditionally, it’s always been considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see one another on the day of the wedding before the wedding actually gets underway.
This custom dates back to the pre-18th century when pre-arranged weddings were widespread. A bride and groom seeing each other was thought to bad luck because it could result in the groom backing out at the last minute.
- Something borrowed, blue, old and new – Although this popular wedding rhyme dates from the Victorian era, the custom of marrying with something blue is far older. The rhyme’s “something blue” comes from ancient Israel, when brides would wear a blue ribbon in their hair as a guarantee of fidelity and devotion to their new husbands.
- The guest who catches the bouquet will be the next to get married – Throwing the bouquet is a big deal at most modern weddings, with the bride throwing the bouquet behind her and whoever catches it will get to be the next one to be married. In the past, guests who wanted to improve their chances of finding a spouse would take a piece of the bride’s gown.
To secure their portion, throngs of guests would follow the bride and groom to their bed-chamber. The bouquet tradition began when newlyweds began tossing their floral arrangements to divert attention away from their departure.
British Bingo Superstitions
Being a game of chance, it’s no surprise to see that there are lots of superstitions relating to bingo. This game is massively popular in the UK, and over the years, lots of quirks and customs have developed at bingo halls and online bingo sites all over the country. Be sure to grab a British superstitions welcome bonus before you play.
Some of the most common bingo superstitions include:
- Lucky numbers – The game of bingo revolves around random chance and having the right numbers on your ticket. As a result, there are lots of players out there who want to choose specific numbers that are lucky to them. There’s no evidence that certain numbers are selected more often than others, but that doesn’t stop players from believing!
- Lucky seats – When playing bingo at a bingo hall, you’ll often get to choose where you sit, especially if you turn up before the crowds. Lots of players swear by particular seats that they feel bring them good luck.
- Lucky daubers – Whether you’re playing online or at a bingo hall, you’ll need to daub off your numbers as they’re called out to know if you’ve got a winning ticket or not. Everyone gets to pick their own daubers, and some players have a special dauber which brings them good luck.
- Lucky roomies – Bingo is always more fun when played with friends, and this is especially true if you have friends that bring you good luck! Join a British superstitions bingo room with your lucky roomies for the best results.