MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Cross Our Fingers For Good Luck?

With the heat wave currently hitting us, you’ve probably to someone (or several someones), “Fingers crossed it doesn’t get any hotter!” But why do we do that? Why do we cross our fingers for luck?

Crossing fingers, whether to achieve your own good luck or in hopeful solidarity that things go well for someone else, is a gesture that’s recognized far & wide. And not only does it have a long history, but it originally was not a solo act.

There are two main theories as to why we cross our fingers for good luck. The first comes from a pre-Christian pagan belief in the powerful symbolism of a cross. The cross’s intersection was thought to mark a concentration of good spirits & served to anchor a wish until it could come true. The practice of wishing upon a cross in early European cultures evolved to a tradition in which a person crossed their index finger over someone else’s to express hope that a wish would come true. Eventually, wish-makers realized they could go it alone & get the same benefit by just crossing their own fingers to support their own wishes without the participation of another person. At first, people would cross their index fingers from each hand. But eventually, it morphed into the one-handed practice we still use today.

But there’s also another alternate explanation, which also just so happens to stem from the early days of Christianity. As early Christians were frequently persecuted for their beliefs, they developed a series of hand gestures as a means of recognizing other fellow Christians. And one of those hand gestures was the formation of the “ichthys”, or “fish symbol”, made by touching your thumbs & crossing your index fingers. The ichthys represents an acrostic in which the Greek letters i, ch, th, y, and s are also the first letters in the Greek phrase that, when translated into English, meant “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Now…that theory doesn’t really explain how luck became associated with the hand gesture, but it does suggest that crossing your fingers was intended to wish hope or luck to yourself or others.

So, as you cross your fingers that this heat wave doesn’t last much longer or get any more oppressive, at least now you know why you’re crossing your fingers in the first place.

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