14 Weird and Wonderful Traditions & Superstitions Explained

With this year being a leap year - s/o to the ladies getting down on bended knee - we got thinking about all kinds of the weird and wonderful traditions and superstitions we observe and where they came from.

From throwing the bridal bouquet to saluting lone magpies and puckering up under the mistletoe, here’s how these customs came to be.

Throwing the bouquet at weddings

Many moons ago, it was considered extremely good luck to get your hands on a piece of the bride. In a bid to keep the dress and veil in one piece, brides began throwing their bouquets in the air to distract the frenzied guests. Today, it is believed whoever catches the bride’s bouquet will be the next one down the aisle.

Eating roast dinner on a Sunday

The Sunday roast gained popularity during the reign of King Henry VII when the Yeomen of the Guard would eat roast beef every Sunday after church. They became known affectionately as the “beefeaters”. Now, it’s an opportunity to gather round the table with friends and family and dig into some hearty food on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Wearing black at funerals

The tradition of wearing black in mourning dates back to the Roman Empire when they would dress in dark wool togas. The custom was later adopted by Queen Victoria who wore black when she was in mourning for her beloved Prince Albert. In Western culture, it is still traditional to wear black for funerals but elsewhere, mourners can be seen in lighter dress. In China, for example, it’s traditional to wear white.

Opening an umbrella indoors

According to this superstition, if you open an umbrella indoors it does terrible things for your luck. One theory dates back to ancient Egypt when nobility would use parasols made of peacock feathers and papyrus to protect themselves from the sun. Opening them indoors – away from the sun’s rays – would be seen as an insult to the sun deity ‘Ra’ and you’d be cursed forever more.

The second origin is from the Victorian era when umbrellas were constructed with steel spokes and opening one indoors could cause injury or eye loss.

Like the Victorians, we probably just avoid opening brollies indoors nowadays purely to escape injury rather than the wrath of the sun gods.

No new shoes on the table

Superstition states that putting new shoes on the table is bad luck and the harbinger of death. Although the origin is largely unknown, it is thought to have come from the mining industry. When minors passed away, their family would bring their shoes home and leave them on the table as a tribute. Superstition aside, who wants shoes with their breakfast anyway?

Kissing under mistletoe

The name comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘mistle’ meaning dung and ‘tan’ which means twig. So yeah, sh*t on a stick. Ain’t that the stuff of romance?

The plant’s association with romance dates back to traditional Norse mythology. In the tale, the god Baldur was plagued by dreams foretelling his death and so his mother Frigg, goddess of love, set about protecting him by asking every animal and plant to take an oath never to hurt him.

Loki, a jealous god, realised mistletoe had been overlooked in the oath-taking and targeted Baldur with a mistletoe arrow which killed him. Frigg’s tears became the pearlescent berries we still see today but rather than punish mistletoe, she ruled that it should become a symbol of love and friendship. We still prefer the turd stick version, personally.

Getting pooped on by a bird is good luck

A symbol of good luck in pooey disguise? Go figure. There’s no real explanation for this other than us humans wanting to make the best out of a sh*tty situation.

Candles on birthday cakes

Blowing out candles on your birthday cake is a long-standing tradition that can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. They would bake round honey cakes as offerings for their gods and goddesses and top them with candles to make them glow like the moon in tribute to the moon goddess, Artemis.

Walking under a ladder

In medieval times, people believed a ladder against the wall resembled the gallows, so if someone walked underneath one it was thought that they would meet the same dreadful fate. Another theory was that when leaned against a wall, the ladder formed a triangle and signified the Holy Trinity. Walking underneath one would therefore break the trinity and be considered blasphemy.

Broken mirrors seven years bad luck

The Romans believed mirrors to be magic portals into the soul, thus breaking one would damage the soul and could not be righted until the next seven-year cycle had passed. This was the amount of time they believed it took for life to renew itself.

Unlucky numbers

Friday 13th is steeped in neggy vibes! Many believe the superstition originated from the Bible and the Last Supper – attended by 13 people. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down, so we have him to blame for triskaidekaphobia. Fridays are also unlucky because of the association with Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday – making Friday 13th the double whammy of bad luck.

Single magpies

One for sorrow or so the song goes! Magpies have long been associated with death and skulduggery ever since Early Christians saw the bird as a symbol of dissipation. It was said to be the only bird not to sing to comfort Jesus on the cross and after his death, it was the only bird not to enter mourning due to its pied plumage.

The notion that the magpie is a bad bird has stuck around and plenty of us still see the solitary magpie as a sign of doom.

A black cat crossing your path

During the middle ages, it was believed that witches would shape shift into black cats to prowl the streets. This belief was echoed in 17th century America during the time of the Salem witch trials.

Leap year proposal

For centuries matrimonial matters were strictly reserved for the gents. According to an old Irish legend, St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to give women the chance to pop the question every four years. If they were refused, the man was obliged to buy her a gown or 12 pairs of gloves. As if that’s a fair consolation prize, right? Hey, you’re not worthy of a ring but here, have a lifetime supply of gloves instead. Love you.

We personally think as a woman you should be able to propose whenever you damn well please, so we caught up with Hannah Witton – who proposed to her BF last year – about how it all went down.

Did you have lots of planning beforehand or did you decide to just go for it in the moment?

I’m a planner in all aspects of my life so yeah I did plan the proposal but not to the exact moment. I knew I wanted to propose with the card game Fluxx and with a Poppy (from League of Legends) key ring so the first thing I needed to do was order those items online. Then I had to wait for them to arrive and draw on the cards. Once that was all done it was just a matter of waiting for the right moment, which to be honest never came! I kept asking Dan if he wanted to play Fluxx with me but he kept turning me down. I was on the train back from a trip to Edinburgh and that was when I decided I was just going to do it – game of Fluxx be damned!

Did you feel the need to do anything trad like get down on one knee?

A little bit, but only because I thought it would be funny. I also got down on one knee because when I proposed he was already sat down. Practical and traditional!

What do you think of the tradition that you’re only “allowed” to do it on leap day?

If you want to use that as an excuse to propose, go for it! But I’m a big advocate for just doing things on your own terms and interrogating these traditions to really know if it’s something that you want and suits you or something you’re doing “just because it’s tradition”. Women should be able to propose any year they like, there are no gatekeepers in proposals (except for the person you’re proposing to).

What were your friends and family’s reaction after the proposal?

It was all very positive but some friends were like “wait is this real or a joke?” haha!

What were Dan’s thoughts and feelings on the proposal?

I just asked him and his words exactly are “I thought it was very nice, it was entertaining, you did a good job”. Hahaha so there you go… At the time he was confused because he thought we were already engaged. Which technically we were, we’d already told family we were going to get married and had started figuring out dates, it was just a conversation but neither of had actually proposed yet. So when I proposed, he really wasn’t expecting. But at least I knew he was definitely going to say yes!

How superstitious are you? Let us know in the comments below!