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Have you ever wondered why we knock on wood for luck or avoid walking under ladders? Many of the habits we consider ordinary today have roots stretching back to ancient times. From superstitions to social customs, the origins of these everyday actions are as fascinating as they are surprising. Let’s look at the history behind 24 common habits and discover the intriguing stories that explain why we do what we do.
Using “X” to Sign Documents
The practice of using an “X” to sign documents dates back to the Middle Ages when many people were illiterate. The “X” represented faith and honesty, and individuals would kiss the “X” as a show of sincerity.
Raising a Glass in a Toast
The custom of raising a glass in a toast during celebrations has roots in ancient Greece. It was originally a gesture of trust, showing that a drink was not poisoned, as drinkers would clink their glasses hard enough to spill a bit of their drink into each other’s cups.
Using Umbrellas Indoors
Opening an umbrella indoors is considered bad luck. This superstition dates back to ancient Egypt, where umbrellas were used to shield people from the sun. Opening one inside was seen as an insult to the sun god, Ra.
Walking Under a Ladder
This is believed to have originated from ancient Egypt. A ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, symbolizing the Holy Trinity in Christianity. Walking through it was seen as breaking the Trinity, a blasphemous act.
Knocking on Wood
This superstition comes from ancient pagan cultures that believed spirits and gods resided in trees. By knocking on the wood, they hoped to earn their favor or prevent jinxing themselves.
Crossing Fingers for Luck
Early Christians would cross their fingers to invoke the power of the Christian cross for protection or to wish for good luck.
Saying “Bless You” After a Sneeze
This habit dates back to ancient Rome. It was believed that sneezing could release evil spirits, so saying “bless you” was a way to protect the sneezer.
Shaking Hands as a Greeting
This gesture began as a way to show that neither person was carrying a weapon in their hand.
Throwing Salt Over Your Left Shoulder
In ancient times, salt was a valuable commodity. Spilling it was considered bad luck, and throwing a pinch over your left shoulder was meant to blind the devil, who was believed to lurk there.
Blowing Out Birthday Candles
This tradition has its roots in ancient Greece. Candles were placed on cakes as a tribute to the moon goddess, Artemis. Blowing them out was a way to send prayers to the gods.
Wearing a Wedding Ring on the Fourth Finger
Ancient Romans believed that the “vena amoris” or the “vein of love” ran directly from the fourth finger to the heart.
Breaking a Bottle on a New Ship
This tradition dates back to ancient civilizations, where they would sacrifice to appease the gods and hope for safe voyages.
Tossing Coins into Fountains
This comes from ancient Rome, where people would drop coins in springs or wells to please the gods and hope for good fortune.
Saying “Cheers” Before Drinking
This was done in ancient times to ensure the drink wasn’t poisoned. By clinking glasses, some of the drink would spill into the other person’s cup.
Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold
This dates back to ancient Rome, where it was believed that brides were susceptible to evil spirits through the soles of their feet.
Wearing Black at Funerals
In many ancient cultures, it was believed that the color black would ward off evil spirits from the deceased.
The “Thumbs Up” Gesture
This gesture has its origins in ancient Rome, where it was used in gladiatorial combat to signal life or death.
Clapping to Show Appreciation
This began in ancient Rome as a way for audiences to show their approval or disapproval of performances.
The Tooth Fairy Tradition
This has roots in Norse culture, where children were paid for their lost teeth, which were believed to bring good luck in battle.
Avoiding the Number 13
This superstition comes from Norse mythology, where the 13th god, Loki, caused chaos during a banquet.
Originating from an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack,” people began carving scary faces into turnips to ward off evil spirits. This later evolved into pumpkins in America.
Ancient Druids believed mistletoe had healing powers and would bring good luck. Kissing underneath it was a way to receive its blessings.
The Easter Bunny
This symbol of fertility comes from pagan festivals celebrating spring. The hare was a symbol of the moon and fertility.
Wearing White on Your Wedding Day
This began with Queen Victoria in 1840. Before that, brides simply wore their best dress.