Very superstitious?

Kelly Stoklosa

As Punxsutawney Phil peaks his head out of his burrow each year, many hope the little guy does not see his shadow, signifying a quick end to winter. Have you ever wondered why a groundhog is trusted with predicting the weather? Where does the Groundhog Day tradition come from? Other superstitions are a part of everyday life, but few people stop and think about where they come from. What about what happens if you break a mirror or walk under a ladder? Why are children taught that if they step on a crack they will break their mothers’ backs? These superstitions and others have been around for as long as anyone can remember, and here’s why.

Groundhog Day

People gather in Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. every Feb. 2 to see if spring is on the way.

If Phil comes out of his home in the ground, it means he didn’t see his shadow and spring is on the way. If Phil catches a glimpse of his shadow, he will stay put and winter will be sticking around for six more weeks.

While this method may not be deeply rooted in science, there is actually a long history surrounding the quirky holiday, according to

Groundhog Day stems from Imbolc, a Celtic celebration of fertility and weather divination. Eventually, Imbolc became Candlemas Day, a Christian celebration of Mary’s purification. In simple terms, there is a long tradition of cultures trying to predict and perhaps encourage changes in the weather.

The Romans began celebrating Candlemas with a hedgehog, and the practice of depending on an animal to see its shadow became commonplace.

German settlers in Pennsylvania deemed the groundhog an appropriate substitute to the hedgehog and Groundhog Day has been in full swing in the United States ever since.

Walking under a ladder

This superstition is believed to come from the days when the condemned were sent to the gallows, according to

Ladders leaned up against a wall resemble the gallows, and it was believed that anyone who had the misfortune of walking under a ladder was sealing his or her fate. While walking under a ladder will not directly lead to a death sentence, this unsettling explanation is enough to remind everyone to walk around the next ladder they see.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back

Ah, rhymes. They make for a great read and a long-standing superstition. The saying “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” was likely created as a jump rope rhyme by school children. There were many other popular rhymes used for this recess activity such as “step on a nail, get your father in jail” and “fall in a hole, break your mother’s sugar bowl.”

For some reason, the verse about breaking your mother’s back had more staying power than the rest. So step on as many cracks in the sidewalk as you wish, your mother’s back is safe, according to

Opening an umbrella indoor

The last time you opened your umbrella inside, someone near you probably said, “You can’t do that; it’s bad luck.” Well it might be.

According to, this superstition dates back to ancient times when people used umbrella-like contraptions to protect them from the sun, but using one in the shade or indoors was insulting to the sun gods. Angering the sun gods could lead to poor crops, which means no food (bad luck).

A more recent explanation comes from Victorian England, where it was common to use umbrellas to protect one’s outfit and hair from the thick fog. Umbrellas in those days were basically metal-pronged assault weapons, so a rumor was spread that opening one indoors was bad luck.

The purpose of this rumor was to deter people from opening umbrellas in confined spaces and possibly puncturing someone or something. While opening an umbrella indoors being bad luck may be up for debate, it is still not the best idea to do so.

Black cats

There is some debate about whether a black cat crossing your path is good luck or bad luck. In the end, it depends on where you live. In the United States, it is seen as very bad luck to have a black cat cross your path, according to

Black cats have been associated with witchcraft, which is likely the source of this superstition. In the Middle Ages, it was believed if a black cat crossed your path, it was because a witch had put a curse on you. One legend goes that the King Charles I of England kept his treasured black cat at his side at all times. The day after the cat died, King Charles I was arrested.

Breaking a mirror

Breaking a mirror is annoying. The mess can be treacherous to your feet. But will it really result in seven years of bad luck?

According to, before people were more scientifically enlightened, it was commonly believed that the soul was shown along with one’s appearance in a reflection. If the soul were shattered, it would be less able to protect the body from misfortune.

The Romans probably had something to do with the seven-year part, because they believed that life renewed itself every seven years. This has never been proven, but just in case there are a few things you can do to keep you good luck if you break a mirror: First, dance in a counter-clockwise direction three times. You can also gather the broken pieces and submerge them in a southward running stream. Or, you can try throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder.

Contact Kelley Stoklosa at [email protected].