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20 Traditional Gift-Giving Superstitions

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The holiday season is a time for giving, but one thing you really don’t want to give is the gift of bad luck. To guard against any gift-related mishaps, take heed of the following 20 old-fashioned gift-giving superstitions. (We’ve included some tips for lucky gift-giving, too.)

1. KNIVES AND SCISSORS

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Giving anything sharp, such as a knife or scissors, is bad luck, as it’s thought to sever the relationship. However, the damage can be mitigated if the receiver gives something small, like a coin, in return, to make the exchange a transaction. Some folklorists err on the side of caution and also recommend repeating the rhyme: “If you love me, as I love you, no knife can cut our love in two.”

2. HANKIES

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Some gift-giving superstitions are quite literal—giving a handkerchief is said to signify tears to come. In Sweden, a man is never supposed to give his lover a silk handkerchief, or she will wipe away her affection for him. Soap is also supposed to be an unlucky gift, as it will wash your friendship away.

3. OPALS

Opal
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Opals are considered one of the most unlucky gemstones, and so should be avoided as a gift unless the receiver was born in October (the birthstone month for opal), in which case its negative vibes will be reversed. Never set an opal in an engagement ring, as it portends early widowhood.

4. SHOES

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Giving someone a new pair of shoes is unlucky, although strangely it is also said to prolong their life. It is very bad luck to gives shoes as a Christmas present, as it is thought to signify that the receiver will walk away from you. However, if you never give anyone a gift of shoes, it means that you will be doomed to go shoeless in the afterlife. Tough choice.

5. CATS

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In Sicily, it’s said you should never give a gift in the shape of a cat to someone who is engaged to be married, as this foretells sudden and violent death. However, in other cultures, if your partner gives you an actual cat as a present it means you will never be parted.

6. PORTRAITS

Two visitors look at Marten and Oopjen, two Rembrandt portraits of a wedding couple
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Bad news for ego-maniacs and narcissists: Receiving a present with your own likeness on it is bad luck, and to receive a portrait of yourself is a sign of treachery.

7. GIVING A GIFT BACK

Mother giving a big gift boxes to child
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It is unlucky to give a gift and then afterwards take it back again. An old rhyme warns: “Give a thing and take it back, Old Nick will give your head a crack.” Another says: “Give a thing and take again, And you shall ride in hell’s wain.” (Wain is a word for a wagon or cart.)

8. COAL

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In old English tradition it is lucky to put a lump of coal among the Christmas presents in the stocking. The recipient should then spit on it, throw it into the fire and make a wish as it burns, and that wish will come true.

9. BAD LUCK COLORS

Red book
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The color of a gift can be significant. Giving or receiving black items is said to always be bad luck, as the color black brings death with it. You’re also never supposed to give a book with a red cover, as it is sure to break a friendship, because red is the color of anger and misunderstanding.

10. ROSES

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In the Victorian era, roses were an especially popular gift between lovers, as they were associated with secret passions. Different colored roses imparted different meanings—for example a red rose was given to show passion, and white roses to symbolize purity. It was important not to give a rose of the "wrong" color.

11. EMERALDS

emerald ring on green satin
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Emeralds were traditionally thought to be found in the nests of griffins (a mythological creature that’s part-lion and part-eagle), and to give the bearer protection from evil. Giving an emerald confers luck, happiness, and success—unless it is given on a Monday, in which case the luck is lost. If a man gives his lover an emerald as a gift, it can also be used to divine the strength of their love. If the emerald grows paler in color, then their love is decreasing, but if the emerald becomes a deeper green, it means love is flourishing.

12. FLOWERS

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Giving flowers is always a lovely gift, but if you are gifted cut flowers, never say thank you—it’s bad luck. Giving white lilac to a sick person is especially unlucky and does not bode well for their recovery. However, if you give yellow flowers, you can shortly expect to receive a gift of some money.

13. GLOVES

tie, wallet, cufflinks, belt, and gloves
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Giving gloves is bad luck, and if you give them to a friend it means you will have a fight. Likewise, giving or accepting a gift with the left hand will result in a loss of friendship.

14. PARSLEY

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Parsley is especially difficult to germinate, and so gardeners would traditionally make three sowings, two for the devil and one for the gardener. It is also said to flourish if you swear profusely while planting it. As a consequence, giving parsley to a friend is inadvisable, as it portends bad luck or death. If a friend really covets your parsley, rather than giving them the plants, it is better to just let them “steal” the herb to prevent any bad luck from being passed on.

15. TURQUOISE

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If you have been struggling over what to get for your mother-in-law, look no further. Give the semi-precious gem turquoise, which is supposed to remove any animosity between giver and receiver.

16. PEACOCK FEATHERS

Peacock feather
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Peacock feathers should never be given as gifts, as it is extremely unlucky to have one inside the house—it invokes the magic of the evil eye. Umbrellas and mirrors are also unlucky gifts as they will cause an estrangement.

17. METAL

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Be careful about what metal that gift is made from. Presents made from pewter or zinc are omens of long life and happiness, whereas a present made of tin foretells mischief.

18. CORAL

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Gifts of coral necklaces for children will protect them from harm. It is said that red coral will turn pale if its owner becomes ill and return to full color as they recover.

19. PURSE

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If you give someone a purse or wallet, it is important to make sure you put at least one coin inside it. This will ensure the purse will never be empty and signifies future wealth.

20. SPREAD THE LOVE

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Gifts should not just be given to friends and family; the luck of the household can be preserved by extending generosity to visitors. To protect a household from the mischief of fairies, it is wise to leave out gifts of food or salt to preserve their good feeling. It is also lucky to give gifts to any visiting carol singers.

Sources: The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstitions; A Dictionary of Superstitions; The Encyclopedia of Superstitions; The Cassell Dictionary of Folklore; Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and Occult Sciences.

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music
Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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