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As luck would have it

(Photo: Detail from Ansley window by Parsons, Wikicommons)

(Photo: Detail from Ansley window by Parsons, Wikicommons)

On the first day of each month, my family indulges in a weird superstitious ritual, the origins of which remain a mystery.

If, it goes, the very first thing one says on that morning is “rabbit, rabbit,” then good luck will follow for the entire month.

Today is Dec. 1, which means that, once again, I will have tried to remember to intone “rabbit, rabbit” as soon as my eyes open blearily on the new day. As I am writing this on the eve of the month’s start, I don’t yet know if the phrase and the date will have sprung to mind upon awakening.

I remember about a third of the time.

My daughters suggested that I write about this family superstition on Jan. 1, 2015 – after all, the auspices of remembering to say “rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of the first month of a new year are far stronger an omen of propitious happenings than any other first on the calendar. But I am writing today so that you’ll have a full month to weigh the benefits of the behavior, and plan, if you wish, to fulfill it.

Louisianians, I have found, are a superstitious lot. I grew up learning to never sweep the floor on New Year’s Day, for fear of sweeping luck out the door. Of dodging ebony cats and broken mirrors and throwing spilled salt over my shoulder – none of which were regionally specific, but shunned all the same.

I still hold my breath through a tunnel or over a bridge, to avoid ominous repercussions. Maybe it was fated that I would wind up in a house with a resident ghost.

New Orleans, with its lucky beans and love potions, seems even more superstitious than the rest of the state. Perhaps it can be traced (as Lafcadio Hearn argued in 1886) to the charms and spells of the voodoo once practiced here. Or perhaps it stems from a melting-pot culture that incorporates ancestral stories and legends as potently as gumbo spices.

Among some of the more oddball bits of superstition I’ve heard in my four decades here:

  • If an alligator crawls under your house, it portends impending death. (Not your own demise by those rapacious teeth, surely?)
  • It’s bad luck to leave your house by any door but the one you came in.
  • Throwing salt on your front step on the first Friday of the month will bring the entire family good luck.
  • Burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the yard will help your house sell more quickly.
  • If you give a knife as a gift, add a penny to the box or it will cut your friendship.
  • Never dig in the earth on Good Friday. (Why, I don’t know.)

One thing I like about the “rabbit, rabbit” bit is that it offers a dozen opportunities a year to bring good luck into your life. If I have indeed forgotten to say the phrase this morning, well, there’s always next month, right?

Rarely does life give us the chance for do-overs.

Editor's note: Wikipedia has spoiled the charm of incognizance for those who like their mysteries unsolved. But in the interest of full disclosure, the website reports that saying "rabbit" or a variation thereof on the first day of the month is a British superstition that dates to the turn of the 20th century. How it made its way to rural Louisiana, I don't know. That, at least, remains a conundrum.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]