Superstition is a very big part of Russian and Ukrainian culture. While many superstitions are largely ignored, many more are so common that they have become an inseparable part of everyday Russian etiquette. So while Russian friends may joke about them, it may be courteous to be aware of common superstitions and show respect for them just the same. After all, do you really want look disrespectful, or worse, risk bad fortune on yourself?
Origin of Russian Superstition
While Russians and Ukrainians are predominantly Christian, its important to remember that Kievan Rus’ didn’t turn to Christianity until the end of the 10th century. As such, pagan tradition and beliefs remained entrenched in Russian culture. The remnants of these pagan beliefs form the foundation of superstitions so prevalent in Russia and Ukraine today.
- Its also important to point out that superstitions often vary region to region. Russia, after all, absorbed many pagan cultures over the centuries, all of which had their own unique traditions and beliefs. Local traditions are so varied that they even produced a popular Russian television program that traveled around the country exploring the diverse range of unique, often humorous, superstitions.
Below are the most widespread Russian superstitions, those that transcend the borders of Russia, Ukraine and former states of the Soviet Union.
Odd Number of Flowers – Always give your wife or girlfriend an odd number of flowers. An even number of flowers is for funerals and sympathy.
Yellow Flowers – Don’t give your lover yellow flowers. Doing so is a sign of bad luck and signifies the end of a relationship.
Step on Foot – If you accidently step on your partner’s foot, let them gently step on yours. If you don’t you risk a future conflict.
Same Towel – A couple should not use the same towel to dry their hands or bodies. Doing so will bring about a conflict.
Table Corners – A single girl should not sit at the corner of a table. Doing so means she will not marry for at least 7 more years.
Breaking Wedding Date – Really bad omen for future of the couple’s union.
On the Way to Church – A bride and groom should never look back – “literally”. Looking backwards towards their previous lives means their future life won’t be happy together.
Ceremony Hand Holding – The bride holds the grooms hand during the wedding ceremony in order to form a closed, unbreakable bond between the two.
Rain at the Wedding – If it rains at your wedding, don’t feel bad, it means you will be rich.
Birthday Parties – Birthdays should not be celebrated early. Therefore, when your birthday falls on a weekday (and you want to celebrate on a weekend), you should celebrate on the following weekend versus the preceding weekend.
Sitting in Silence – Before leaving on a long journey, all travelers and all of those seeing the travelers off, must sit together for a moment in silence.
Forgetting Something and Returning – When you return for something you’ve forgotten this means “nothing will come of your trip”. To mitigate this, look into a mirror at your own reflection before you leave again.
Breaking a Mirror – Seven years of bad luck (as in America).
Black Cat – Another common superstition, black cats are bad luck when they cross your path (can signify failure in business). If you see one, bless yourself with a sign of the cross and try to avoid crossing its path (or let someone else do so first).
Itchy Hand – If your right hand itches you’ll be receiving money soon. If your left hand itches, you’ll soon be paying someone money.
Whistling Indoors – Whistle inside and you are whistling away your money. If you forget, you are sure to be reminded immediately by your Russian friend(s) – especially if it is in their home.
Not Recognized – If a person is not recognized when seen or heard by a familiar acquaintance, it means he or she will be rich.
Doorways – Never greet or say goodbye on the threshold of a doorway. Doing so, according to some, forms a bridge to let bad spirits in. According to others – this is the area where the house’s spirit resides. Regardless, it is bad luck.
Knock on Wood – If someone praises you, avoid a jinx by knocking on wood and spitting three times over your left shoulder. Throwing salt over your left shoulder won’t work since Russian superstition considers it bad luck to spill salt.
Bus Tickets – If the 3 numbers on the right add up to the same total as the 3 numbers on the left its good luck. (Its especially good luck if you eat the ticket)
Same Name – Its good luck to sit between two people with the same name. This is not as hard as it sounds, since Russians and Ukrainians often have common first names.
Presenting Knives or Sharp Objects – Its bad luck to present knives or sharp objects as a gift. If you do so, expect to receive a small amount of money in return. This way its more of an “exchange” than a gift.
Presenting Wallets or Purses – If you present someone a wallet or purse, put a little money in it first for financial luck.
Baby Gifts – Its bad luck to buy (or accept) baby gifts before the child is born.
Itchy Nose – If your nose itches it means you’ll be drinking soon.
Full glass – One should not put a full shot glass of alcohol back on the table.
Empty Bottle – Never leave an empty bottle on the table. On the flip side, if an open bottle sits on the table, “empty” it.
Toast – Traditionally, drinking should be preceded by a toast. The only time there isn’t a toast is for funerals and commemoration (including Easter).
Interval between 1st & 2nd Shots – There should not be a long interval between the first and second shots.
na pososhok (на посошок) – Departing guests must drink one last shot for good luck.
Hiccups – If you get hiccups it means someone has just thought about you.
Sneezing – If someone sneezes while telling you something, it means they’re telling the truth.
Eyelash – If an eyelash falls out you will receive a gift. If you find an fallen eyelash on someone, take it and let the person blow it away and make a wish.
Falling Utensils – If a fork or a spoon fall off the table it means a female guest will soon arrive. If a knife falls off the table it means a male guest will soon arrive.
Cat Washing its Face – If the cat is washing its face, you can expect guests soon.
Rain upon Departure – If its raining when leaving someplace it means you’ll return.