Mitch is a member of the class of 2020 who was born in America and has roots in China and the Philippines. He was born and raised in Orinda, California and does not practice any religion. Lastly, Mitch is very science oriented and hopes to become an engineer by the time he graduates.
Social Context: When Mitch was young, his mother would actively tell Mitch to pick up the pennies for good luck whenever she saw Mitch’s loose change laying around the house.
Cultural Context: This superstition stems from ancient times when metals were precious and believed to offer protection from evil spirits.
Good Luck Superstition: Picking up pennies brings good luck.
Mitch told me that he isn’t superstitious at all, unlike his parents who are very superstitious. He said that this might be because his parents are very catholic and therefore are more inclined to place less importance on logic and reason to establish causality.
It’s interesting to see that this superstition lends its cultural roots to the fact that metal was precious and therefore finding them was valuable. Its social context echoes the social context of the superstition to not break windows because like metals, windows were considered to be very precious centuries ago.
Ryan Shean is a member of the class 2021 and has his roots in Irish, English, and Polish. He was born and raised in Newport Beach, California. He is Christian and Libertarian. He enjoys skateboarding and lifting in his free time. He aspires to be an economics major and fears spiders.
Social Context: When Ryan went up an elevator over the summer, the 13th floor button in an elevator was missing. His dad told him that the 13th floor of an elevator was bad luck because the number 13 is unlucky.
Cultural Context: One cultural origin for why the number 13 is an unlucky number was because 13 was traditionally the number of steps leading to the gallows.
Bad Luck Superstition: The 13th floor of a hotel brings bad luck.
Ryan says that he chooses to avoid the number 13 in many other situations in his life. He told me that even before he found out that some hotel’s skip the 13th floor, he always knew that the number 13 was unlucky.
It’s interesting to see that hotels will exclude a button for the 13th floor because it might turn away customers who are superstitious. It would be fascinating to research what other superstitions hotel’s follow based on their customer bases.
Matt Vance is a student of the class of 2018 and has roots in the Irish, English, and Dutch. He was born in London and raised in New York. He is agnostic, he is fiscally conservative and socially democratic. His hobby is reading and running. He hopes to help people and be a good father.
Social Context: The informant learned this superstition when he was 10 at a camp and learned it when he started hearing other kids warning him about breaking mirrors.
Cultural Context: Centuries ago, mirrors were not cheap and not taken for granted as they are today. Mirrors were expensive and almost like a luxury item, so therefore breaking one would deliver bad luck.
Bad Luck Superstition: Breaking mirrors brings bad luck.
Matt said he believes in karma, or the notion that if you mess with the universe, it messes with you back. Moreover, Matt doesn’t take these superstitions for face value and chooses to follow them loosely. Not breaking any mirrors, however, is one superstition he chooses to follow.
It’s interesting to see that Matt avoids breaking windows considering he follows all the other superstitions loosely. Even though mirrors are not as expensive as they were in the past, breaking them today is still generally avoided because mirrors provide utility and replacing one is a hassle.
Tanish is a ’20 at Dartmouth College. He is from Singapore and is Indian. He practices Hinduism. He is a Math major who likes playing tennis and fears the deep sea.
Social Context: The informant learned this superstition from his parents. Though he learned it as a child, he continues to hear about and practice this superstition in his daily life.
Cultural Context: Tanish explained that this superstition likely came from the caste system that has been in place in India for centuries. Especially for members of higher castes, it is important to be perceived as clean by avoiding cleaning at night.
Bad Luck Superstition: Cleaning at night brings bad luck.
Tanish said that this is one superstition that he continues to practice today. He believes it is important to be clean and to be perceived as clean, even though he is no longer in a culture where the caste system is in effect.
I thought this was an interesting one because of it’s similarity to cutting fingernails at night. Both focus on being clean before nighttime, which appears to have both religious and social ties. Like cutting fingernails at night, this one could have a practical reason – cleaning in the dark would be much more difficult, and it would be easier to miss spots of dirt.
Informant is currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College from West Windsor, New Jersey. He identifies as South Indian. He was raised practicing Hinduism but considers himself agnostic. He studies math and enjoys playing trumpet in his free time.
Social Context: The informant learned this primarily from his family. He also observed that this superstition was widely held in India when he traveled there as a child.
Cultural Context: This superstition stems from a common theme of Indian superstitions, the connection between cleanliness and nighttime. The informant noted that there is likely a religious component to this superstition, but he did not know exactly what it was.
Bad Luck Superstition: Cutting one’s fingernails at night brings bad luck and sickness.
He noted that there might be a practical purpose for this superstition. Before electricity, cutting nails at night meant cutting nails in darkness. It would have been hard to see properly, making it more difficult to clean up and more likely that one could cut oneself.
This superstition follows a definite theme in Indian superstitions as well as Asian superstitions as a whole. It was also one of the first mentioned by everyone interviewed, which means it might be one of the more prominent.
The informant was born in Shanghai, China and moved to the U.S. when he was 4 years old. He has since lived in Baltimore, Maryland. The informant currently goes to school at Dartmouth College, and is a sophomore studying economics and government.
Social Context: The informant learned this good luck/ bad luck superstition from his parents and observing them during Chinese New Years. The informant’s parents always dusted and cleaned the house the days leading up to Chinese New Year and told the informant and his brother to do the same, but never on Chinese New Year.
Cultural Context: The new year brings good fortune and prosperity to a clean home. However, dusting a room during the new year would mean dusting away the good fortune and prosperity, leaving only misfortune.
Dusting with a broom on Chinese New Years is considered bad luck. A dirty house on Chinese New Years will lead to misfortune and disaster for the upcoming year.
This is a sign of a homeopathic connection because the messy, unkempt room manifests itself onto the person so he/ she too will be messy and unkempt, and will not be able to receive the good tidings that come to a clean home.
It is interesting that this particular piece of folklore is on one hand a good luck/ bad luck superstition and on the other hand, a long held tradition in many Chinese families.
The informant is a sophomore at Dartmouth College and is 19 years old. He was originally born in Beijing, China, but moved to Massachusetts, U.S. when he was six years old. He is currently studying economics and mathematics with the intent to pursue a career in finance following graduation.
Social Context: When he was eating rice as a child, his parents warned him to not poke the chopsticks to the bottom of the bowl, and especially not to stab them into the bowl such that they stand upright.
Cultural Context: when one visits a deceased individual, it is customary in Chinese culture to burn incense. Chopsticks resemble the shape and form of incense.
In Chinese culture, it is said to be bad luck when one puts chopsticks through the rice such that it touches the bottom of the bowl.
The incense sticks that are burned to mourn the dead is related to the chopsticks that are used to eat rice. By sticking chopsticks down to the bowl, it is believed you or someone related will be dead in the future.
This superstition seems to be connected with homeopathic magic, for what is done with chopsticks is like what is done with incense because the two are similar in form.
Informant is 19 years old and is currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College studying computer science. He was born in Beijing, China and lived there until coming to the United States to attend Dartmouth College.
Social Context: This is a very widespread good luck/ bad luck superstition in China. The informant equates this superstition to be common knowledge observed from the Chinese language.
Cultural Context: The negative context behind the number 4 is because it is a homonym for the word that means death in Chinese (死). The positive context behind the number 8 is because it rhymes with the Chinese word for wealth (发). Thus, the connotations of these two numbers is largely attributed to how they are pronounced in the Chinese language.
In China, the number 8 is considered to be good luck
In China, the number 4 is considered to be bad luck
Socially, when people select license plate numbers for their cars, they usually want the last number to be 8, so the sequence ends with like the number 8. So if you read the sequence, the last number rhymes with like getting rich. While people would avoid having the last number be 4 so when you read the license plate number it sounds like something death. The same applies for phone numbers as people want a lot of 8s in their phone number.
It is interesting to see that this good luck/ bad luck superstition take on a tangible form in that people are very particular about avoiding the number four in phone numbers and license plate numbers while trying to maximize the amount of 8s in phone numbers and license plate numbers.
Leeya is a current sophomore (’20) at Dartmouth College. She lives in Hawaii and is native Hawaiian as well as Japanese. When she was younger she spent summers in Japan attending elementary school. She speaks Japanese and English.
Social Context: The informant learned of these superstitions from older figures such as her parents as well as from practicing them.
Cultural Context: The superstitions pertaining to foods is largely symbolic, likely unique to Japan but not necessarily exclusive to it, as noted by the informant.
Leeya says that it is customary to eat certain foods around the new year to bring good luck, as different ones symbolize different things. These foods are collectively called Osechi-ryōri. She explains how buckwheat noodles, called toshi-koshi soba, are eaten because the noodles are long, therefore representing long life.
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):
Transcript of Associated File:
“On new years you’re supposed to eat certain foods it’s called osechi-ryōri. Each food has its own meaning, for example there’s like soba – toshi-koshisoba and that’s supposed to signify long life because, you know, the noodles are long.”
Most foods are eaten because they are symbolic.
The symbolism makes a lot of sense. Some followup research I did on my own explained that another popular item is shrimp, as it’s curved shape and long whiskers resemble a bent-over old man .