Today is Friday the 13th, which is a date of some numerological and superstitious notoriety. This year has featured two Friday the 13ths (the other was in January), and while any calendar year includes at least one, no year can ever have more than three. The last solo year was 2016, and the next will be 2021.
Any year that begins on a Sunday will have a repeat of this year’s January-October Friday the 13ths; the next occurrence will be in 2023.
When it occurs in October it’s doubly frightful — All Hallow’s Eve date is 13 backwards.
Why the number 13 is considered ominous and unlucky is a mystery. At least part of the explanation lies in its legendary association with misfortune as related in The Last Supper and Norse mythology.
As the natural number following 12, it also constitutes a contrast and break with the completeness numerologists ascribe to a dozen: there are 12 calendar months, 12 Zodiac signs, 12 Herculean labors, 12 Olympian gods, 12 Israeli tribes, 12 Christian apostles, 12 clock hours and (as will be sung before long) 12 days of Christmas.
Whatever the reason, triskaidekaphobia — fear of the number 13 — has had significant financial implications in America.
Even huge infrastructure projects reflect intelligent people’s phobic avoidance the number. The majority of high-rise buildings in the U.S. skip the 13th floor, according to the Stress Management and Phobia Institute. Many hotels and hospitals shy away from offering a Room 13. Airports routinely omit a Gate 13.
Matched with Friday, the resulting unlucky date often thwarts travel, deals, contractual closings and other activities for millions of people. The price tag for all the foreboding of Friday the 13th? The Phobia Institute estimates as much as $800 million to $900 million will be lost today because people won’t fly or do business as they normally do.
On the flip side of triskaidekaphobia, however, is a steadily growing Halloween mania among American consumers. Spookiness is more fun than scary these days, and the crystal ball foretells record-breaking numbers for this year’s Halloween holiday celebrations and rituals.
For starters, more Americans than ever — 179 million — plan to celebrate this ye ar, according to the annual research study sponsored by the National Retail Federation (NRF).
Total Halloween spending will be a record high $9.1 billion, which is 8.3 percent higher than last year and almost double what it was a short decade ago. The largest percentage of that, more than $3.4 billion, will go to costumes, which nowadays are worn by adults and children alike.
The NRF prognosticators pick superhero costumes to be the favorite this year, but I dispute that. My dark-horse prediction is there may be as many Donald Trumps as Batmans among Halloween partygoers and neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
The remainder of boo bucks will be spent on decorations and confections. From simple wreaths to elaborate oversized displays, some $2.7 billion will be spent on pumpkins, cauldrons, skeletons, ghosts, tombstones and other paraphernalia pertaining to all things eerie that might go bump in the night. The candy tab for supplying trick-ortreaters averages only about $25 per household, but multiplied out across the vast, disguised horde of kids on the prowl for sweets, that adds up to another $2.7 billion of so in spending.
Fortunately, there are still some wonderful freebies you can enjoy as part of Halloween.
Audiobook versions of classic horror tales such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are available at no charge since those works are in the public domain. You can download them and listen on your smartphone using earbuds or a Bluetooth connection in your car.
Every year about this time, I start listening to the LibriVox recording of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
On free audiobooks, a critical quality factor is the reader’s skill and talent. This version was recorded in 2006 by “Chip in Tampa, Fla.,” and his voice, cadence and dialect couldn’t have been hand-picked any better.
It sounds as if Irving himself is relating the story around a cozy fireside.
Chip’s tone has a mesmerizing quality when describing Tarrytown and the nearby countryside; a playful timbre when depicting Ichabod’s infatuation with Katrina Van Tassel (and her wealth) and Brom Bones’ jealousies; and a haunting somberness when recounting Ichabod’s climactic encounter with the headless horseman.
In the moments just prior, while riding home in the autumn darkness, everywhere Ichabod turns he sees and hears terrifying things. Suddenly his horse stops and he is jolted to acute attention.
“Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod,” Chip purrs as he enunciates each of Irving’s splendid adjectives.
“In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something … huge … misshapen … and towering.” Chip’s pauses simulate heartbeats skipping.
“It stirred not, but seemed gathered up by the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.”
The next moments, using only words and no surround sound or special effects, recall the power of sheer language to invoke immense suspense. Listen for yourself. I can’t recommend a better Halloween treat.