Thursday, April 1, 2010


Today's April 1st, which means that it's time to be on the lookout for pranksters. It's funny that April Fool's Day originates with the Pagans and their belief that the new year started in the spring with the rebirth of life around them. It's also funny that Christians decided to make fun of Pagans and this belief by playing pranks on them, when you consider how much sense it makes to make January 1st, the date in the dead of winter where nothing lives, the start of your new calendar year. I'm siding with the Pagans on this one; January 1st feels nothing like new. It's usually the start of a long, hard, cold winter where all of your days end at 5pm when the sun's already down and you feel like you're a vampire, skukling around in the dark, with no holiday to look forward to for several months. April 1st actually does feel new; everyone feels a new energy when they see the sun peaking out for awhile longer, the snow melting, shedding heavy winter clothes like an old layer of skin and starting anew.

But this isn't a debate about Pagans and Christians and what they believe. All of this thinking about this strange holiday made me reflect on superstitions in general and why we believe in them. There's usually no good reason to believe in these things; most superstitions live in our mind. I think sports embodies this very well, since it seems to be one of the last places in our well-structured and reasonable lives where superstitions are allowed to live and some are even respected.

Let's take this latest controversy around a mural painted in Chicago which depicts their team Captain Jonathon Toews and the Stanley Cup. Let's leave aside the controversy surrounding the artist painting a snout in the place where Toews' nose should be. There are fans who are raging mad that the Cup, the Holy Grail of Hockey, has been painted next to the Chicago Blackhawks team Captain because he hasn't won it yet and apparently, this is bad luck.


The mad fans believe that the team, the city and Toews are jinxed and that this premature painting is going to bring them bad mojo for the playoffs. Despite the fact that the team is formidable and has a fantastic record, people still believe in the bad mojo. So what's the solution to this conundrum? Do we throw salt at the mural?

Superstitions are silly and generally have no place in our technological age, where people are highly educated and well-informed on just about everything. But we all have them. It seems that there are one or two forums, like the arts and sports world, where they're accepted as a way of life. That's why people still won't name that Scottish play and why the playoff beards always make their annual appearance, scruffing up the best looking faces in the NHL.

Why do we believe the things that we believe? Is there something in our human nature that always wants to believe the things that we can't understand, or is there something reassuring about rituals and habits that we create for ourselves when confronted with highly stressful situations? Is this something left over from our tribal era, back when we used to venture into dark spaces at night and hold dear to some object that we thought brought us luck, or counted the exact amount of steps that we took and took the same amount every single time? Do we need superstitions?

Will there ever be a time when we are so educated, so enlightened and so wise that superstitions will be considered unnecessary? I hope not. Because there's something so lovingly human about having superstitions. It's the acknowledgement that we may not be as smart or as brave as we think, that we may not be owed the things that we desire to have and that we still need to work and hope for them. It's the acknowlegement that there is something working in the universe that is beyond us, strange and mysterious, and that we respect what we cannot control.

There may be nothing wise about superstitions themselves, but there may be wisdom in the fact of having them.

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