Superstitions are a weird thing. On the one hand, they’re plainly untrue, which is good because otherwise we’d spend half of our GDP on sidewalk repairs to prevent the paralysis of every mother in America. On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a shooting star without going ahead and making a wish just in case? They don’t make any sense and we don’t believe them, but deep down something in us can’t help but abide by them. These little, almost involuntary, actions serve as minute rituals that provide a brief sense of control as we make our way through daily life.
Since so many superstitions aim to imbue common objects with uncommon powers to help or harm us, it’s no surprise that many are about food and common kitchen items, which are so central to our health and well-being. Here are 20 common and not-so-common food superstitions for you to pretend not to believe in.
Salt 1 of 20The idea that spilling salt is a bad omen that needs to be counteracted by tossing some over your shoulder is probably the most widely-known food superstition and it's also one of the oldest dating back at least to ancient Rome where it's qualities as a preservative made it a symbol of enduring friendship.
Image: Arnold Reinhold
Citrus 2 of 20
Rosemary 3 of 20Superstition has it that rosemary planted by the doorstep will keep witches away. This one really works we have some rosemary growing by our back door and all the witches that have ever given us trouble have tried to get in the front.
Chopsticks 4 of 20In Japan, it is bad luck to stick chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice as this is part of a funeral tradition. Similarly, it is bad luck to pass food from one set of chopsticks to another which mimics a ceremony for placing bone fragments in an urn after cremation.
Bread and Butter 5 of 20This one's not strictly food-related, but it mentions food and it's really sweet. When a couple or friends are walking and have to separate to go around an obstacle like a pole, they both have to say "Bread and butter" to prevent something coming between them in life. The idea is that once bread has been buttered, it can't be separated, just like the friends saying it.
Image: Brooklyn Supper
Birthday Candles 6 of 20Tradition has it that one should make a wish while blowing out their birthday candles. What should you wish for? I suggest wishing for a bunch of money or true love or something in just in case your wish is granted.
Make birthday cake in a jarâ€¨
Image: Brooke McClay
Acorns 7 of 20The belief that an acorn placed in a window will keep lightening out came to America from Scandinavia and is more prevalent in parts of the country that were settled by Swedes and Norwegians. Don't believe it works? Well according to some lady on the internet, she does it and "hasn't been struck by lightning yet." Proof positive.
Image: Phyllis Gautier
Apple Seeds 8 of 20This probably seemed more plausible in the days before birth control, but supposedly, if you cut open an apple and count the seeds that are visible, you will see how many children you will have. I just tried this and apparently have two more on the way. We're going to need a bigger place.
Image: Glenn Bruger
Flatware 9 of 20Traditionally, if you drop a fork a woman will soon visit, drop a knife and a man will pay you a visit, and drop a spoon and a child will visit. So, if you're lonely, go dump out your silverware drawer.
Image: Brooklyn Supper
Containers of Food 10 of 20The belief that you should never, after receiving a container of food, return it empty seems very kind, but really if you could just wash it before you give it back to me, that would be more than enough.
Image: Liz West
Parsley 11 of 20There are tons of superstitions associated with parsley. It's unlucky to give as a gift, transplanting it brings a death in the family, if a stranger plants it in your garden you will suffer bad luck, if parsley thrives in a woman's garden then she has a weak husband, and planting parsley seeds will help a woman become pregnant. These are just the tip of the iceberg. What's clear is that parsley has really declined in status in our day, where it is something that comes with your steak for the purpose of later being thrown away.
Image: H. Zell
Sliced Bread 12 of 20In some circles, it is held that someone who cuts bread unevenly has been telling lies. But since it's so hard to cut slices evenly, I guess we all have.
Image: Klaus Hopfner
Fish 13 of 20I always thought that it was unlucky to eat fish from the tail to the head, but after doing some research, it seems like there is no consensus about which is the lucky end of the fish to start from. One thing we can all agree on is not to start from the middle.
Image: Marisa Garrido
Milk 14 of 20The idea that it's bad luck to let milk boil over seems backwards to me. Anything boiling over seems like a symptom of bad luck rather than a cause. Many cultures have an aversion to boiling milk at all, though, seeing a link between harming the milk and harming the cow that gave it.
Onions 15 of 20Some believe that a wish made while burning onions will come true. So go ahead and make a wish, especially if that wish is for your house to smell bad.
Image: Brooklyn Supper
Herring 16 of 20It's held in eastern Europe that upon the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, one should hold a silver coin and eat herring for good luck in the New Year. Since I'll also be busy kissing someone, toasting with champagne, and singing "Auld Lang Syne," that might be tough to pull off.
Image: Nicole Cho
Wishbones 17 of 20The practice of breaking a wishbone to be granted a wish goes back at least to medieval Europe, there's a record of people breaking a goose's wishbone for a wish at a Bavarian feast in 1455. Given the Roman use of birds in divination, though, this one may go back even farther. Whatever the origins, all you need to know is that you should grasp your side of the wishbone as high up as you can without the other person noticing if you want to win.
Image: Petko Yotov
Singing at the Table 18 of 20If it isn't bad luck, it's certainly annoying. So there are at least two reasons to avoid it.
Image: Lorenzo Costa
Loaves of Bread 19 of 20Some say you should never turn a loaf of bread upside-down after a slice has been cut from it, though I have a hard time thinking of a situation where I'd want to do this anyway. Apparently this superstition is rooted in the belief that turning a loaf of bread upside down orients it toward hell, which invites evil. Why this is only the case with bread that's been sliced, I'm not sure.
Burned Bones 20 of 20Apparently burning beef bones foretells poverty, and burning chicken bones foretells scandal. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to avoid burning bones.â€¨
Image: Mogens Engelund
Image: Liz West
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