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Most people cross their fingers when they need luck, either for themselves or for someone else. The same urge can also be felt when someone needs protection or even divine intervention.
Occasionally, even children will cross their fingers behind their backs in an attempt to invalidate a promise or to tell a white lie.
It’s clear that crossing your fingers has a couple of meanings. It’s a gesture that invites luck, but it’s also a gesture that demonstrates a lie. So where did this practice originate from and why do we still do it?
The Meaning of Crossing Fingers
There is no doubt that the crossing of fingers symbolizes good luck throughout the world. You might say something and then cross your fingers, indicating that you are hopeful that good luck will come your way. A sympathetic friend or family member may cross their fingers as a way to show support for your goals or hopes.
A person who lies might cross his or her fingers as well. This gesture is done to prevent getting caught in the white lie.
There are two primary theories on how crossing fingers came to be a symbol of good luck.
Links to Christianity
The first can be traced to pagan times in Western Europe where the cross was highly accepted as a symbol of unity. It was also believed that good spirits lived at the cross’s intersection. It is at this intersection where a person must anchor his or her wishes until they come true.
The practice of wishing upon a cross spread across the early European cultures during pre-Christian times. This is also similar to the practice of saying touch wood or knocking on wood to negate bad luck – which is also associated with the cross.
As time evolved, well-wishing individuals began crossing their index fingers over the index finger of the person asking for a wish to come true. In this case, two fingers make a cross; the one asking for a wish and the one supporting and empathizing.
Crossing fingers over centuries became much simpler. A person could now make his or her wish by merely crossing his or her index and middle fingers to make an “X”.
The cross could already be made without requiring a supporter. Friends and family, however, can still commiserate by crossing their own fingers or at the very least saying “Keep your fingers crossed.”
Other explanations of origin can be found during the early Christian era. In those times, Christians crossed their fingers in order to invoke the powers associated with the Christian cross.
As Christians were persecuted by Romans in the early Church, the crossed fingers and the Ichthys (fish) came to symbolize assembly for worship services or a way to recognize fellow Christians and interact safely.
To Ward Off Bad Luck
Some accounts suggest that people crossed their fingers during 16th century England to ward off evil spirits. People also crossed their fingers if someone sneezed or coughed. Like the practice of saying bless you when someone sneezed, this may have been because people would worry about the health of the person who had sneezed and wished God’s mercy and blessings on them.
Why Do We Cross Our Fingers When Lying?
Stories on how crossing fingers when lying came to be are mixed.
Some say that this gesture of crossing fingers when lying may have come from Christianity. This is because one of the Ten Commandments says do not lie or more accurately “do not testify falsely against your neighbor.”
Despite breaking one of God’s commandments, Christians are believed to have made the cross symbol using their fingers in order to keep God’s wrath at bay.
As early Christians were persecuted, they would also cross their fingers when lying about their faith, as a way to ask God for protection and forgiveness.
Crossing Fingers Around the World
While people in the West cross their fingers for good luck, in some eastern cultures, like Vietnam, crossing one’s fingers is considered a rude gesture. It represents female genitalia and is similar to the raised middle finger in western culture.
Crossing fingers is one of the most enduring and commonly practiced superstitions anywhere in the world. But that’s probably because like other superstitions such as knocking on wood, it doesn’t take much effort to do it. As such, even kids can cross their fingers when hoping for luck or wishing to get away with their white lies.