For some people, the most auspicious way to start a new month is by uttering those words. Others say “white rabbit,” or repeat the word “rabbit” in some other quasi-ritualistic pattern, but the intent is always the same: To start the month on a good (rabbit’s) foot.
Where did this tradition come from? Like so many superstitions, the origin isn’t quite clear. Word historian Martha Barnette told NPR the practice probably started in the UK, where it’s still common to say “white rabbit” on the first of the month.
The first mention of such a practice dates back to the early 1900s, and since then a few notable people have been known to invoke some form of the magical phrase.
“In fact, another aficionado of this practice was Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” Barnette said. “He was known to carry a rabbit’s foot during the 1932 election. We still have that rabbit’s foot in a museum. And supposedly, he also said rabbit, rabbit at the beginning of every month.”
The superstition probably got a boost in the 1990s, when kids’ TV network Nickelodeon included mentions of “Rabbit Rabbit Day” in its programming.
Whatever the reason, it’s no stretch to see why it’s “rabbit rabbit” and not “possum possum,” or whatever. Rabbits have been seen as good luck for centuries, and are common symbols of rebirth. What better time to get a fresh start than at the beginning of a whole new month?
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