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2015 has three Friday the 13ths. What are the odds?

November 13, 2015 presents the third of three Friday the 13ths in 2015. Here’s the story behind 2015’s trio of Friday the 13ths.

Scared of Friday the 13th?  An irrational fear of this date is called friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named).   Image via Kelli Marshall

Scared of Friday the 13th? An irrational fear of this date is called friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga is the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named). Image via Kelli Marshall

November 13, 2015 is a Friday, ushering in Act III of this year’s epic Friday the 13th trilogy. We had a Friday the 13th in February and March. To cap things off, we’ll have a Friday the 13th in November, exactly 39 weeks (3 x 13 weeks) after Friday, February 13, 2015!

Not that we at EarthSky suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia – an irrational fear of Friday the 13th – but, gosh darn, it’s Friday the 13th three times over in 2015. What’s more, last year’s lone Friday the 13th on June 13, 2014, occurred exactly 39 weeks (3 x 13 weeks) before the Friday the 13th in March 2015. Also, next year’s lone Friday the 13th on May 13, 2016, will happen exactly 26 weeks (2 x 13 weeks) after the Friday the 13th in November 2015. Follow the links below to learn more about why some people fear this day and about 2015’s three Friday the 13ths.

Scary coincidence or super unlucky?

In 2015, blame Thursday

The February-March-November Friday the 13th trilogy repeats …

The rhyme and reason of the Friday the 13th cycle

Friday-the-13th-year repetitions within 28-year cycle

Can three Friday the 13ths occur in a leap year?

The Friday the 13th slasher-movie franchise helped keep this day maintain its notoriety.  Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Friday the 13th slasher-movie franchise helped keep this day maintain its notoriety. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Gioachino Rossini, a 19th century Italian composer. Folklorists say there's no written evidence that Friday the 13th was considered unlucky before the 19th century. The earliest known documented reference in English appears to be in Henry Sutherland Edwards' 1869 biography of Rossini.

Scary coincidence or super unlucky? Neither. It’s just a quirk of our calendar, as you’ll see if you keep reading.

The fact is that, according to folklorists, there’s no written evidence that Friday the 13th was considered unlucky before the 19th century. The earliest known documented reference in English appears to be in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini. His portrait is on this page. He doesn’t look scary.

Friday has always gotten a bad rap. In the Middle Ages, people would not marry – or set out on a journey – on a Friday.

There are also some links between Christianity and an ill association with either Fridays or the number 13. Jesus was said to be crucified on a Friday. Seating 13 people at a table was seen as bad luck because Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is said to have been the 13th guest at the Last Supper. Meanwhile, our word for Friday comes from Frigga, an ancient Scandinavian fertility and love goddess. Christians called Frigga a witch and Friday the witches’ Sabbath.

In modern times, the slasher-movie franchise Friday the 13th has helped keep friggatriskaidekaphobia alive.

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In 2015, blame Thursday. The year 2015 started on a Thursday. Whenever a common year of 365 days starts on a Thursday, it’s inevitable that the months of February, March and November will start on a Sunday. And any month starting on a Sunday always has a Friday the 13th.

Of course, February has exactly four weeks in a non-leap year. So, for that reason, the days of the week have to match up with the same dates in both February and March during any common year. In any year, the days of the week always fall on the same dates in both March and November. In short, because the year 2015 started on a Thursday, that means February, March and November all have to start on a Sunday and all must have a Friday the 13th.

The February-March-November Friday the 13th trilogy repeats … More often than you might imagine! The last February-March-November Friday the 13th year happened six years ago, in 2009, for the first time in the 21st century (2001-2100). It will next happen eleven years from now, in 2026. After that, the following February-March-November Friday the 13th year will happen eleven years after 2026, in the year 2037.

A grand total of eleven February-March-November Friday the 13th years takes place in the 21st century (2001-2100):

2009, 2015, 2026, 2037, 2043, 2054, 2065, 2071, 2082, 2093 and 2099

Because the Gregorian calendar has a 400-year cycle, we also know the February-March-November Friday the 13th years will repeat exactly 400 years later in the 25th century (2401-2500):

2409, 2415, 2426, 2437, 2443, 2454, 2465, 2471, 2482, 2493 and 2499

Calendar for 2015

Calendar for 2015, courtesy of timeanddate.com

Calendar for 2015, courtesy of timeanddate.com

The rhyme and reason of the Friday the 13th cycle. Yes, it does make sense. Within the 21st century (2001-2100), note that the February-March-November Friday the 13th years repeat in 28-year cycles (going crosswise):

2009, 2037, 2065, 2093
2015, 2043, 2071, 2099
2026, 2054, 2082

Because the Gregorian calendar suppresses the leap year in 2100, the cycle is perturbed, meaning that all eleven February-March-November Friday the 13th years in the 22nd century (2101-2200) come four years earlier than in the 21st century:

2105, 2111, 2122, 2133, 2139, 2150, 2161, 2167, 2178, 2189 and 2195.

However, within the 22nd century (2101-2200), these Friday the 13th years also repeat in cycles of 28 years.

2105, 2133, 2161, 2189
2111, 2139, 2167, 2195
2122, 2150, 2178

The cycle is perturbed again in the 23rd century (2201-2300):

2201, 2229, 2257, 2285
2207, 2235, 2263, 2291
2218, 2246, 2274

And again in the 24th century (2301-2400):

2303, 2331, 2359, 2387
2314, 2342, 2370, 2398
2325, 2353, 2381

Friday-the-13th-year repetitions within 28-year cycle. Some of you, who might not yet be dazed by calendar numerology, may wonder if some formula governs how a given Friday the 13th year repeats within the 28-year cycle. The answer is a definite yes. Keep in mind that this particular February-March-November Friday the 13th year can only happen in a common year of 365 days, and when January 1 falls on a Thursday.

Therefore, if this threefold Friday the 13th year comes one year after a leap year, the days again match up with the dates in 6, 17 and 28 years afterward. Take the year 2009, for example, which comes one year after a leap year:

2009, 2015, 2026, 2037

However, if this triple Friday the 13th year falls two years after a leap year, the days and dates realign in 11, 17 and 28 years. Take the year 2026, which takes place two years after a leap year:

2026, 2037, 2043, 2054

Finally, if this trio of Friday the 13ths happens three years after a leap year, the days recur with the same dates in 11, 22 and 28 years. The year 2015 happens three years after a leap year:

2015, 2026, 2037, 2043

It appears as though cycles of 372 and 400 years prevail over the long course of centuries. Take the year 2015, for instance:

2015 + 372 = 2387

2015 + 400 = 2415

The 372-year period is known as the Gregoriana eclipse cycle, which we elaborate about in our post: How often does a solar eclipse happen on the March equinox?.

Can three Friday the 13ths occur in a leap year?

Yes, a leap year can harbor three Friday the 13ths (January 13 – April 13 – July 13) if the leap year starts on a Sunday, which last happened in 2012. However, given that this particular Friday the 13th year happens in a leap year, and a leap year only, it recurs only in periods of 28 years. So the last January-April-July Friday the 13th year happened in 1984, and will next happen in 2040.

If a common year starts on a Thursday, there are three Friday the 13ths; and if a leap year begins on a Sunday, there are three Friday the 13ths. These are the two scenarios whereby three Friday the 13ths can occur in single calendar year.

Bottom line: From what we have been able to gather, the 400-year cycle displayed by Gregorian calendar features 59 years with three Friday the 13ths, consisting of 44 common years (February – March – November Friday the 13ths) and 15 leap years (January – April – July Friday the 13ths).

2012 has three Friday the 13ths. What are the odds?

Bruce McClure

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