Sometime in everyone’s life you need or would appreciate a bit of luck, that is universal. Some of the luck-getting traditions are similar some different. Like when we moved into our new home a friend brought us a gift of flour and salt. I remember seeing that done in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. There are, however some subtle differences in the way Swiss get and give luck.
I guess a good question would be, is there even such a thing as luck? Is it more like chance or an unpredictable phenomenon? Is it controllable? The German word for chance is “Zufall”. It can be seen as something that just falls to you out of nowhere. Something you have no power over, or an incidence that just happens. Some people say that luck or chance doesn’t even exist, that every action is a direct result of another action. Picking apart the words luck, chance, coincidence or superstition can get somewhat confusing and blurry. The fact remains that many people believe in luck, the Swiss included.
In America everyone knows that crossing your index and second fingers will bring luck. That can be for your own personal luck or for that of someone else. For an extra portion of luck you can cross all your fingers, toes and limbs, but you usually don’t. The Swiss do it differently, no finger-crossing for them. They hold their thumbs. The amount of luck is therefore limited with no extra portions available. This is the way it is done correctly: you hold up four fingers, like ordering 4 beers. Next tuck your thumb over your palm. You then fold all your fingers over your thumb, almost like making a fist. Sometimes the luck thing works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve tried combining the finger crossing and thumb holding but the jury is still out if that brings more luck or not.
Being Lucky and Unlucky
A ladybug landed on your hand? Definitely good luck and prosperity in store. Horseshoes are a good luck charm if hung correctly. A lot of farms hang a horseshoe over the entry to their home to ensure luck. It must be hung to look like a “U” so the luck can fall into it and stay. If hung the other way around I suppose your luck would just slip away.
In English, before someone has a performance you might say “Break a leg”. The Swiss go one better, they say “Break your neck and leg”. Really, if you are going to do something, you might as well do it right.
The New Year
No one wants to be unlucky. In German “Pech gehabt” means being unlucky and translates directly into “having pitch”. Pitch is a dark, gooey substance found in asphalt or any dark, sticky substance gotten after distilling coal tar. Once it is on your hands it is almost impossible to remove so it is extremely undesirable. The opposite of “having pitch” in German would be “Schwein gehabt” or directly translated “to have pig”. I believe this saying originated in the Middle Ages when having a lot of pigs meant being prosperous and therefore lucky.
Touching a chimney sweep will always bring you good luck, too. That probably grew out of the fact that when your chimney was clean and free of soot then you could cook. A clean chimney also reduces the chances of your home burning down.
Some mushrooms make you feel happy if you eat them. Okay, they make you hallucinate. If you have a lot of luck then you are called a “lucky mushroom”. Giving someone one of these red mushrooms signifies luck, even if it is only plastic.
If you ever find a 4 leaf clover, keep it! Clovers, chimney sweeps, pigs and red mushrooms seem to abound in the beginning of the year when wishing someone a happy and prosperous New Year. I saw these being sold at the grocery store. They symbolize a chimney sweep, holding a lucky mushroom, standing in a bed of four leaf clovers. I guess the more symbols the better!
Luck while Hiking
Once was when I was hiking with Ben he said,
Did you hear that?
Listen. There. That. Did you hear it?
Yes. What is it?
It sounded pretty cool, then Ben asked me if I had any money in my pockets. What a weird question. There, in the middle of nowhere, no stores or shops in sight. And, it was Sunday to boot, so nothing would have been open anyway had there been anything nearby. Nowhere to spend it and Ben wanted to know if I had money!
Nonetheless I reached into my pocket and pulled out some change and offered it to him. He said, good and didn’t take it. Then he explained. Traditionally, when you hear a cuckoo and you have money in your pocket then you will enjoy prosperity and good luck the whole year. If you don’t have any money in your pockets, well, you don’t want to know what happens then. I have no idea how that became a good luck charm but it did. Lucky for me, I had money in my pocket.
All this talk about luck reminded me of the part of the text from a Rod Steward song (“Mowtown Song”). “’Cause you know what luck is? Luck is believing you’re lucky”. There might be something to that. Ben and I have enjoyed a great deal of “luck” in our lives. We believe we are lucky therefore we are. Even the name Benjamin means “son of luck”. What more could one ask for?
I wish everyone a prosperous and lucky New Year. May luck be at your side this year if you should need it.