Certain activities tend to be more steeped in superstition than others...
Wedding Traditions/Superstitions in the U.S.
Wedding day superstitions were designed to ensure a long and prosperous union and have been around for many centuries. Here are a few of the most popular:
Carrying the Bride across the Threshold – This practice stems from the belief that the bride and groom are very susceptible to evil spirits on this happiest of occasions. It was considered very unlucky for a bride to trip on her wedding day, so to ensure that she doesn't, the Groom carries her over the threshold. This tradition also symbolizes the bride entering or beginning her new life.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue – Is a rhyme from the Victorian area. Something old is a link to the bride’s family, something new is a nod to her future, something borrowed symbolizes the support of friends and family and something blue represents the promise of loyalty and faithfulness.
Throwing the Bridal Bouquet and the Garter – All the single women in attendance are gathered. The bride tosses her bouquet into the crowd. Whoever catches it will be the next to marry. The groom does the same with the single men and the garter.
The Bride Wears a Veil – In ancient Rome, brides began wearing veils in attempt to baffle and confuse malicious spirits thought to be jealous of the new couple’s happiness. In the case of an arranged marriage, it may have also been a form of “insurance”. If the groom couldn't see the bride's face until after they were married, he couldn't ditch her at altar if she wasn’t as attractive as he might have hoped.
Tying Tin Cans to the Back of the Newlywed’s Car – This decorative ritual began as way to protect the couple from evil influences. It was hoped that the noise made by the cans would scare away any evil spirits in the area.
Throwing Rice – Rice provides sustenance and is a symbol of fertility and so throwing rice at the newlyweds is a way of ensuring that they will have many children and never go hungry.
Wedding Cake Under the Pillow – If a single woman sleeps with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow she will dream of the man she will marry.
Many of the traditions of the Christian holiday of Christmas have their root in pagan mythologies. One such is the custom of hanging mistletoe and inviting those who meet under it to kiss.
Mistletoe played an important role in the Druid culture, but today's custom of kissing under the mistletoe is attributed to a Norse myth. When mistletoe was used to kill her son Baldur (the Scandinavian God of the Sun and Justice,) Frigga (the Scandinavian goddess of the Sky, who was also in charge of love and marriage) was inconsolable. She cried and cried until her tears were miraculously transformed into pearls. When these pearls fell upon the mistletoe plant (creating the berries), Baldur came back to life. In her joy, she kissed everyone in sight and blessed the plant so that it could not be used for evil.
Ground Hog’s Day
On February 2, the whole country anxiously awaits Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prediction. If he sees his shadow we will have six more weeks of winter, if not, spring is on the way!
According to Wikipedia, this quaint tradition probably stems from the following Scottish poem:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
European settlers are thought to have brought this tradition with them when they migrated to America. In their homeland, it is a hedgehog that gives the weather report on Candlemas day. But since hedgehogs are not native to North America, they had to be replaced with another hibernating mammal - the groundhog.
For as long as man has been involved in athletic competition, he has attempted to give himself the upper hand over his opponent by engaging in superstitious behavior. For instance, Michael Jordon always wore his college basketball shorts under his NBA uniform. In football, many players try and keep the same number throughout their career. And one of most superstitious athletes of today is baseball player, Wade Boggs, who refuses to eat anything other than chicken before a game. Ice hockey has their share of superstitious performers too. The late, Pelle Lindbergh, is remembered for always donning the same, often repaired, T-shirt beneath his equipment. And Tennis star Goran Ivanisevic is so superstitious that after having won a match, in order to maintain his good luck, he attempts to replicate everything he did on and off the court that day for the remaining days of the tournament.
Theater people are notoriously superstitious. It is common knowledge, that you should not directly wish an actor “good luck”. Because of the age-old belief that drawing attention to your good fortune might tempt fate, you should instead say "break a leg". Whistling in the theater is also frowned upon. This hearkens back to olden times when sailors were often hired as stage hands (because theater curtains were rigged with ropes similar to those used on ships). These "salty" laborers communicated with each other by whistling, so pointless whistling was banned to avoid confusion. It is also considered unlucky to use real money or jewelry as props during the run of a play.
Life on the high seas is dangerous, so in order to protect themselves, sailors adopted many traditions/superstitions. Many of these stem from observations of nature. A familiar one is the old saying “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning”. It's rudimentary meteorology. To kill a sea bird, in particular the Albatross, was deemed to be very unlucky as they were thought to carry the souls of sailors who died at sea. In the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the troubles encountered on an ill-fated voyage are blamed on the shooting of an Albatross. And the Mariner, who killed the bird, is forced to wear it around his neck as punishment. That's where the old saying "to have an Albatross around your neck" originates. Why do sailors wear gold earrings? Because they are considered lucky charms - maybe because their value ensured that a sailor possessed sufficient funds to pay for a proper burial. Whereas in most folklore, cats are considered to be unlucky, cats of any color are considered lucky at sea. Unfortunately for sailors, women and clergy are not.