Somehow I missed it. How did it happen that this naturalist was unaware of the rabbit-repeating tradition?
This convention is completely new to me. A friend recently shared that her husband says “rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of each month as soon as he wakes up. When uttered on the first it is believed to bring a month of good luck. Even better is using this phrase on your birth month, as even more good fortune will be yours, they say!
However unaware I was about this practice, my friend’s husband is clearly in the know and is not alone. Speaking these words on the first of every month is quite a longstanding tradition and practiced by many folks, both famous and not, in many places, from England to New England.
Britons have been credited with this tradition’s origins. The British quarterly journal Notes and Queries (which published articles related to “English language and literature, lexicography, history and scholarly antiquarianism”), confirms its use by children in 1909. However, it is believed that the tradition goes back as far as the 15th century.
And there are rules. “Rabbit, rabbit” must not only be the first words out of one’s mouth on the first day of the month; they must also be said out loud.
Many variations on the theme exist. The number of times the word is said might not matter. Some sources note that saying rabbit once is fine, while other sources claim repeating it three times is best. Colors are sometimes added. White rabbit works, but only in the morning. If you missed the opportunity, say black rabbit that night to make up for your morning mistake, or tibbar, tibbar which is, of course, the important word backward. Speaking the words up a chimney is believed to portend a gift.
For the end of the month there are also associated traditions. Walking backward down the stairs saying hare, hare is the recommended practice on the last day of the month, perhaps to get in the mood for the next morning’s mention.
There are some notable folks who participated in the rabbit, rabbit tradition. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was thought to use this phrase reliably once a month. And word has it that comedian Gilda Radner had her own version, saying “bunny, bunny.” Millennials (those born in the later 1970s to 1980s) may remember the phrase being popularized by the children’s television station Nickelodeon in the mid-1990s.
Doubters do exist on the good fortune of rabbits. Beyond the lucky rabbit’s foot charm are other ominous signs. Folklore notes that the presence of a white rabbit in a village is a sign of someone’s (usually the observer’s) impending death. A 19th century superstition cautions fisherman not to say the word “rabbit” while out at sea.
So, unless you’re a fisherman, feel free to try this playful tradition. Summoning thoughts of energetic rabbits is a good way to start your month, or day. And if good fortune hops your way, so much the better.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.