December 12, 2011

Spain's Friday the 13th: "Martes y 13..."

"… ni te cases, ni te embarques …" This is what everyone in Spain will be telling you tomorrow, Tuesday the 13th, which here is the equivalent of Friday the 13th, that is, an unlucky day for the superstitious.

Why 13? Well, that's probably not a surprise to anyone. The number 13 is considered bad luck across a lot of cultures. From Christianity, the superstition allegedly comes from the last supper where there were 12 disciples and Christ. With Judas being a traitor, he became the thirteenth person, the unlucky guest. What's more the antichrist appears in the 13th chapter of the apocalypse. But it's not just Christianity. The Jewish Kabbala and Nordic traditions associate 13 with the number of bad spirits. (For example, Loki, the bad spirit, is the thirteenth.) And in the Tarot, the number 13 refers to death.

Norse spirit, Loki, the unlucky number 13.

Tarot card "XIII," death, bearer of grim tidings.
Americans are familiar with this numerological superstition, not only for Friday the 13th. Fear of the number 13 even has a name: Triskaidekaphobia. (Fear of Friday the thirteenth being, "friggatriskaidekaphobia.") Hotels are known to skip the thirteenth floor in numbering them. And people will often avoid purchasing seats located in aisle 13, and so on.

Mars, the Roman god on his war chariot.
Why Tuesday? This is the more interesting question, and more of a local idiosyncrasy. One explanation ties to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which happened on a Tuesday. This apparently led to the coined idiom in Spain: "What happened?" [Whenever something bad occurs.] Answer: Tuesday". A more pan-latin explanation is that Tuesday in Spanish and other Romance languages comes from "Martes," the planet Mars, also known to be "el pequeño maléfico" (the little troublemaker) in the Middle Ages and ancient astrology. (March is also named for the god Mars. Is it a coincidence that Caesar met his doom on the ill-fated ides of March, a festive day dedicated to the troublesome god? I think not!) A final explanation is that Tuesday the 13th is, according to legend, when the lingual confusion of the Tower of Babel occurred. Given Spaniards' headache with language wars, it would make sense that they'd be a bit sore about that date.

All of this said, my general impression is that in Spain "Martes y 13" is more of a joke than a superstition. (Compare, for cross-cultural consideration, the 1962 Spanish comedy movie "Martes y trece" with the 1980 American horror film "Friday the 13th.") Indeed, "Martes y trece" was the name of a famous Spanish comedic trio, then duo in the 1980s and 1990s—Josema Yuste, Millán Salcedo and Fernando Conde (Conde left in the mid eighties)—who have long since parted ways. From '88 to '97 Yuste and Salcedo as "Martes y trece" were the hosts of the New Year's broadcast for Televisión Española's channel 1 ("La 1").

1962 comedy "Martes y trece" with important
Spanish actress Concha Velasco

DVD release of 1980 "Friday the 13th,"
dark American horror film.

So humor more than dread surrounds this day. I don't know anyone who reschedules a trip on Tuesday the 13th (and who ever marries on a Tuesday anyway?). Whenever the 13th lands on a Tuesday, it seems more an opportunity for people to recite with glee some variation on this refrain:

Martes y 13,                              Tuesday the 13th,
ni te cases ni te embarques,         you shouldn't marry or embark on a journey,
ni de tu familia/casa te apartes.    nor part yourself from your family/home.

Practice it and surprise your Spanish friends and co-workers with it tomorrow.

Apparently this Tuesday the 13th lore is not just limited to Spain, but also in Latin America (presumably because of Spanish influence) and… Greece!  Here are some funny variations on the above refrain I found mentioned in an Argentinian journal: “El martes... ni gallina eches, ni hija cases"; “El martes... ni hijo cases, ni cochino mates"; and “El martes... ni tu casa mudes, ni tu hija cases, ni tu ropa tejas”.


Tumbit said...

Why is "Death" carrying a flag denoting the White Rose of Yorkshire ? I´m pretty sure I´ve never heard of that from my Yorkshire heritage

An Expat in Spain said...

Interesting observation. I would never have caught that. I can't offer a concrete answer, though tradition has Death carrying a white rose, so that at least partly explains it. But I couldn't say why this particular rendition of the card carries the particular style of the White Rose of York... maybe the artist was still bitter about the War of the Roses.

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