Why is 13 considered so unlucky anyway? Why do the elevators in hotels and other high-rises often skip from 12 to 14? Why do absences spike and travel plans change on the 13th day of the month (especially when it falls on a Friday)?
Try as you might, you will not find a definitive answer. A few possibilities are often cited: There are 13 loops on a hangman's nose, for example. A witches' coven was said to contain 13 members, or 12 plus the devil himself. The Last Supper had 13 guests, including Judas.
These are all in their own way unconvincing as sources of 13's woeful reputation. Though by definition a hangman's noose has 13 loops, a 12- or 14-loop noose would likely be just as effective in getting the job done. Thirteen was probably settled on because the number was already considered unlucky.
A coven of witches makes a nice Halloween story, but evidence of such a group doing the cha-cha around the bonfire with Satan is rather sparse.
The Gospels don't actually say how many attended the Last Supper, but even if we agree that there were 13, it's not theologically tenable to claim that bad luck played any part in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. As the carol says, "Jesus the savior did come forth to die."
And not all 13s are unlucky. As aforementioned, 13 is the age when Jewish children become full members of the religious community. Our nation was born of 13 colonies, so when you see the flag whipping in the breeze, it is with 13 red and white stripes. Wilt Chamberlain wore the number throughout his career - and had a darn good one.
What 13 really is, more than anything, is one more than 12. It's that number that appears over and over again: 12 apostles, 12 months, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 days of Christmas, 12 tribes of Israel. There are 12 inches in a foot and two 12-hour cycles in a day. Eggs, bagels, and doughnuts come in dozens, and a gross - 12 dozen - is a common large order of any good.
What 13 does is mess up the nice symmetry of an even dozen. Considered this way, 13 is not so much unlucky as untidy.
The monks of the Middle Ages - who made up the calendars, scheduled the feast days, and constructed the Easter tables - were all about tidy. They fervently believed in the synchronous majesty of a universe designed by a grand architect, and it irked them tremendously that there are not 12 even lunar cycles in a year, but 12.4 - which means that every third or so calendar year has 13 full moons.
In my opinion, it is this untidiness that is at the root of 13's unfortunate reputation. Thirteen reminds us that the world is not neat.
As for 2013, it may or may not be unlucky, but we can count on its being messy - just like life itself.
Daniel Deagler is a writer who lives in Bucks County. He can be reached at email@example.com.