When you think of cursed gifts, you typically think of something like a Chucky doll. Or maybe something seemingly cute — like a mogwai — that turns out to be decidingly uncute when you feed it after midnight, expose it to light and/or get it wet. And yet, per legend, some of the best-known cursed gifts are exceedingly normal. I’m talking wallets, sweaters and shoes normal.
These gifts become cursed via superstition. That is, unless certain requirements are met during the gift-giving process, that totally ordinary sweater will lead to the break up of your relationship. In fairness, gift-giving is fertile ground for superstitions to take root. “[Superstitions tend to emerge in] circumstances when we have less than perfect control,” Stuart Vyse, a behavioral scientist and expert on irrational thinking, explained to the American Psychological Association. “Two of the conditions that mean that we’re going to be, or more likely to be superstitious, are ones where we don’t have control, and yet we do care very much about what happens, about the outcome.”
This, of course, perfectly describes any Christmas morning, birthday party or other occasion that requires an object presented in gift wrapping.
Below are four of the best-known gift-giving superstitions, their origin story, and when applicable, how you can ward off the cursed luck they might bring.
Knives and Other Sharp Objects
In The Edge, a 1996 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, Hopkins receives a knife as a gift and gives the gift giver a coin in return. Why? Because, according to his character, if the gift of a knife isn’t followed by the reception of a coin, it could cut the friendship.
The superstition likely stems from Asia. “It’s common there,” one member of the KnifeClub subreddit tells me. “Giving a knife, or even scissors, represents cutting ties or your luck.” To that end, per this same redditor, Japanese knifemaker Masakage includes a 5-yen coin with every knife they sell in order to ward off such negative outcomes.
“The reason I like exchanging a penny, a dime or whatever,” another r/KnifeClub devotee explains, “is because it allows me to still gift a knife to someone while the exchange of money means they’re accepting responsibility for it, and symbolically absolving me of culpability in case they accidentally cut themselves or something.”
That said, he’s definitely gifted knives to people with no coins exchanged, and it hasn’t severed the relationships. “Still, I’d advise that you think about who you’re gifting it to, and ask yourself if they’re someone you think would be able to handle a knife safely and use it properly,” he says. “If not, don’t give them a knife.”
A superstition with a similar antidote is that of an empty wallet or purse. The myth goes that, if you give a gift of a purse or a wallet, you should include some money in it to ensure good luck for the recipient. In fact, like Masakage, some retailers on Poshmark actually include a dollar bill inside all of the purses and wallets they sell. “The saying in my family is that if you give an empty wallet or purse then it will stay empty,” a subscriber to the Poshmark subreddit writes.
Poshmark consumers definitely seem to consider it to be a nice touch: “I purchased a bag from a seller and received it today. It came with a dollar bill inside of it and a really sweet note explaining that in her culture it’s considered bad luck to receive a bag without some money in it. It was by far the most thoughtful note I’ve received!”
“True or nah?,” someone asked Lipstick Alley in 2014. “I wanted to buy my bae a pair of kicks and my friends were like, ‘Fuck nahhh! You want them to walk out of your life?’ Shit. Well, can I get bae a gift card to the shoe store?”
The answers weren’t exactly comforting. “Yes, and don’t buy him a watch either because you’re putting a time limit on your relationship,” another person responded.
According to NewsOne.com, this particular superstition originates from a mixture of ancient African religion, Native American traditions and European folklore. “I know many women who believe this superstition,” they write. “I never heard of anyone who this has happened to, but I can imagine there are people who can lay claim to this.”
The thing is, as the person who first posted the question on Lipstick Alley pointed out at the time, this logic could be applied to pretty much anything: “How about if you help with car payments — are they going to drive out your life, too?”
To be clear, the “Sweater Curse” as it’s known doesn’t apply to everyone. It also isn’t applicable to every type of sweater. The superstition is largely held by those in the knitting world to describe the belief that if a knitter gives a hand-knit sweater to their significant other, it will lead to a breakup.
On the one hand, confirmation bias could help explain the “sweater curse.” On the other, at least according to one knitter’s Tumblr post, this superstition isn’t entirely untrue — albeit, with a slight twist:
“It’s because after spending serious £££ on materials, and then HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF LABOR on the creation of the item, with every stitch a prayer of totally focused intent, creating a large display of technical skill — it is then gifted to a non-knitter who does NOT APPRECIATE the work/effort/skill/cost/TIME it took to make it, and in fact thinks you’re a bit weird and making a big deal out of a piece of clothing, and after they go ‘oh thanks’ and shove your creation in the cupboard next to a sweater they got for £15 at an M&S sale, then they never wear your sweater because it’s too tight because when you asked them how their favorite sweaters usually fit they said, ‘I ‘unno’ and when you measured them for the fifth time and asked, rather tersely, if they had enough room in the chest, they said ‘I guess,’ and then if pressed they say they don’t really like the sweater design, but then you point out that they were supposed to participate in helping you design it and they say they don’t really care about how things look, and when you say that you tried to match it to their other clothes so how can they hate it, then they say that honestly their mother still buys all their clothes because they hate going shopping, and that they hate all their other clothes too, well. That’s when a sensible knitter goes, ‘Fuck this shit. And you know what? Fuck this man.’”
So yeah, maybe all gift-giving superstitions aren’t totally unfounded after all.