A fascinating look at various global traditions for bringing luck, from our Assistant Manager Madeleine.
Now that we are safely into the New Year, students in Year 11, 12 and 13 are prepping for mock exams, whether for GCSEs or A Levels. While mock exams don’t necessarily affect a student’s final overall mark or accurately predict how a student will perform in the final exams, they can still be scary for many young folk - especially if it’s the first exam-style situation they’ve encountered or if they get stressed during tests. Even kids who know the content of their course inside and out can still be prone to a bit of mock-exam-time fear. Sometimes students need a lucky charm to help calm any pre-exam nerves - so in the spirit of the season, I did a bit of digging and have pulled together some symbols of good luck from around the world!
The first symbol might be familiar to some - the acorn! Acorns are symbols of good luck here in the UK, apparently dating back to the Norman Conquest when English soldiers brought dried acorns along with them for protection from harm. It’s thought that this belief stems from the acorn’s connection to the oak tree, which is supposed to represent strength, prosperity and general good fortune. This belief was observed in many cultures, including by the Celts, who saw the oak tree’s height and stature as a clear symbol of its durability, purity and constancy. The acorn and the oak tree are also symbols of good fortune in Norse folklore, where they are associated with the god Thor, who created thunder and lightning. As a result, Norse people would place acorns on their windowsills to protect from lightning. Good vibes from the acorn all round!
Across Europe and Western Asia, in countries such as Germany, Poland and Turkey, the ladybird is a common good-luck charm. In fact, in Turkish the ladybird is called uğur böceği, which literally means “good luck bug”. While not quite as literal, the German and Polish words for ladybird connect it to the spiritual and the pure - with the German Marienkäfer named for the Virgin Mary, and the Polish boża krówka which means “God’s little cow” - displaying the high esteem in which this little bug is held. It’s thought that the sight of a ladybird is a sign that a wish is soon to be granted to you. So if you see one of the little fellas on the way to your mocks, you’ll know that you’re in good hands!
Meanwhile, over in Japan, there are many symbols of good luck which people might be familiar with. One is the maneki-neko (招き猫) or “beckoning cat” which is a small figurine of a cat lifting one of its arms over its head. While this may look like waving to Westerners, this is actually the gesture used to beckon in Japan (with the arm stretched out, but with palm facing down rather than up and fingers pulling in). The origin of the beckoning cat is unknown, but one possible origin is an old folktale which tells of a poor shopkeeper who takes in a stray cat out of the kindness of his own heart. The cat repays him by beckoning in customers to his store - aww!
A slightly more obscure example from Japan is none other than the KitKat. This might seem odd but the reason is none other than because it’s a great pun. Basically, the way that KitKat is pronounced in Japanese sounds a bit like the phrase kitto katsu (きっと勝つ), which means “to surely win”. Thanks to this brilliant punnery, Japanese students apparently chomp on KitKats before exams to bring themselves good luck - come to think of it, maybe the KitKat’s status as a hugely popular lucky charm is the reason you can get so many different flavours out there?!
Sticking to the theme of lucky food, in Korea it’s considered lucky to eat taffy (called yeot in Korean) before you sit an exam. This is connected to a Korean phrase which literally translates as “sticking to the exam”, which essentially means “passing the exam”. The connection is that due to taffy’s sticky nature, if you eat it before taking a test you will “stick” to it - meaning you’ll pass it. In direct contrast, it’s best to stay away from seaweed soup before your exams - and I’m sure you’ve already guessed why. Seaweed soup is slippery - which is no good for sticking to anything!
So if you’re feeling anxious before an exam, why don’t you find your own lucky charm? It could be anything - a favourite pen, a bracelet, or even your favourite pair of socks. It might be silly, but using or thinking of something that makes you feel positive and happy during an exam might bring you the good fortune you need to get that top mark.
Have you ever had a mascot or lucky charm that made you feel less nervous during mock exam season? Sound off in the comments with your lucky charms or any tips and tricks you have to achieve a positive mindset for mocks!
Blog Post Crafted by Madeleine
Madeleine helps to run our Admin Team. Despite the fact that she read Japanese at university, Madeleine’s main passion in life is opera and she hopes to become the next Maria Callas some day...
Madeleine manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors.