Return to Content

Saying Rabbit, Rabbit | The Luck of the English

Saying Rabbit, Rabbit | The Luck of the English
5 votes, 4.40 avg. rating (86% score)
rabbit rabbit

Do you say rabbit rabbit on the first day of the month?

Today is the first day of the month and Rabbit! was the first word spoken in this house. I grew up thinking that our family was the only family with this strange tradition. On the morning of the first day of every month, there was a slow chorus in our house, from room to room, the word “Rabbit” was spoken one and then another until we had all been granted our month’s worth of good luck. In my mind, my grandmother was the originator of the tradition, and it extended to all my aunts and uncles and cousins on my father’s side of the family. My mother was complicit so I didn’t realize it was not her tradition, growing up, but rather something she adopted once she married my father. The superstition was that if you forgot to say rabbit, spoken as the first word on the first day of the month, you would have bad luck that month. Now that I have written that down, I realize how spooky it sounds, as if we were a bunch of paleolithic cave people, clinging to the earth by virtue of luck and whimsy. Whenever I mentioned this custom to friends, they would usually ask me where that came from. My only answer was “from my grandmother,” which, of course, is the short answer. Beyond that, I had no idea. More recently, I’ve discovered a few friends who also indulge in this strange habit, one who not only says Rabbit every month but who also collects rabbit figurines of all sizes and of all material, paper and stone not excluded. Another who feels that one must say the word twice, as in, Rabbit, Rabbit, for the luck to stick. But no one can explain to me why we say Rabbit and where the tradition came from.

This morning, I woke up and spoke the word to the silence around me. And finally realized that in this new world of instant information, I finally have the means to answer that question. I went directly to my computer and Googled “rabbit+first day of the month” and up came a variety of sites that referred to this strange habit. That validated me right there. According to the Wikipedia entry, the origin of this custom in unknown but it can be traced back to perhaps the 15th century, maybe even the 13th — good heavens! And it came from England, which makes sense since that is where my grandmother’s family came from. The reasons for the word Rabbit (as opposed to Luck! Or Help! Or Hello! — it seems that any nonsense word would probably do the trick) aren’t particularly clear (they link it to a lucky rabbit’s foot but then you have to ask, what is so lucky about a rabbit’s foot?) but the entry continues to say that one reason for the word Rabbit might be that “it is jumping into the future and moving ahead with life and happiness.”

It is ironic to me that both my grandmother and my father, in fact, their entire family, were possessed of the notion that they were unlucky, that fortune did not favor them. They were badly affected by the Depression and further by World War II and so perhaps the idea of saying Rabbit had a particular resonance and force for them. They were devoted to the ritual.

The tradition was extended on the first day of the new year, which called for walking backwards down the stairs and saying Rabbit at the same time. I remember an especially hilarious evening spent with my cousins on Cape Cod, not so long ago. I was visiting them at their beach house which had a treacherous set of wooden stairs that lead to the ocean. It was New Year’s Eve and particularly blustery outside but their house being a kind of one-story bungalow, did not have any stairs. And so we all trooped outside into the cold and inky darkness and walked backward down the steps toward the ocean, shouting Rabbit into the stiff ocean breeze. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone to witness this spectacle and we all made it to the sand safely, laughing hysterically at our irrational claim to this family tradition.

I don’t remember if that year was any different from any other, in terms of luck or no luck. For that matter, once I say the word at the beginning of the month, I tend to forget the whole thing. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we need to perform ritual in order to call fortune into our lives. But I do believe I should honor my family and maybe this is how I do it. At this late date in the family history, it would seem sacrilegious to abandon this tradition. And so I keep on. And delight when I find another soul who has carried this old superstition into the 21st century. And to all, I say, Rabbit!

Sign-up for Yankee Magazine's FREE enewsletter!

and get a free digital issue, plus 30% off in the Yankee Store

Your New England Minute
Yankee Recipe Box
Yankee Exclusive Offers
Great Yankee Giveaway
Yankee's Travel Exclusives Newsletter

18 Responses to Saying Rabbit, Rabbit | The Luck of the English

  1. W.S. Simon September 3, 2008 at 11:56 am #

    Thank you for sharing this! I was raised in Ohio where my mother always announced the beginning of each month with Rabbit Rabbit. I’ve passed this along to my daughters who have passed it along to their children who, in childish humor, respond with Monkey-Monkey or Elephant-Elephant.
    Being the first to say Rabbit Rabbit was always important. Now my daughters and I compete to see who can be first to text-message each other. On September First of this year I found the following on my cell phone: “RABBIT x 2 !”

  2. Heather Atwell September 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    Somewhere I picked up the habit to say “white rabbit, white rabbit” when I am at a campfire and the smoke is blowing at me. It’s very catchy. I like the “rabbit” think on the first too!

  3. Doris Matthews September 10, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    Edie, I had never heard of such a tradition until you wrote about it (maybe because I’m French-Canadian) but I like it! Traditions are very important to me and my family no matter how odd they may seem to be. We have always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve and that was the only day of the entire year that we would feast on the meat pies that my grandmother had so lovingly made for my family. Not so odd of a tradition but a tradition none the less. Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. Katherine Davies September 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm #

    I am American, married to an Englishman. We live in Ireland, and over here I somehow picked up saying “White Rabbit, White Rabbit” on the first day of every month, while my husband says “Pinch, punch, first day of the month” with the accompanying gentle pinch and punch!

  5. Kathleen McKee September 14, 2008 at 8:21 pm #

    When I lived in Boston/Brookline in the mid 80′s my roommate who was from the main line part of Philly always said Rabbit, Rabbit on the first of each month. Me being a midwestern girl thought it was a little strange, but she thought my “uffda” comment was also strange to be spoken in times of distress or annoyance.9/14/08

  6. Melissa Fairbrother November 1, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    We compete to see who can say it first too! Too funny! My OCD kicks in on this though and if I say it an even number of times I feel like I’m canceling it out LOL

  7. Sara Childers December 1, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    Thank- you for validating my sanity. I thought maybe it was just me and my silly lot.
    RABBIT RABBIT EVERYBODY!!!

    Yes!

  8. jerseyjim December 1, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Just heard about this on NPR.

  9. Roni February 1, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    I teach at a private school where “white rabbits” are exchanged on the first of each month. I’ve long wondered about the origin. Now I know! Our school has a different twist on this, however, in the form of competition to say it first upon meeting each new face that day. I’ve grown weary of the tradition and have drawn a rabbit’s outline on the white board with festive accoutrement for the month: holly, heart, shamrock, etc. maybe I am shortchanging myself of some good fortune by doing so?

  10. April February 1, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    I have been saying this since the 60′s in New Jersey

  11. Ingrid February 1, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    In my house we only said “rabbit rabbit” on New Year’s Day. I like the every month version, must consider.

  12. Susan Adams February 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    I am from the south west corner of NH and have said “white rabbit, white rabbit” on the first of every month, and said it three times on the first of January, for as long as I can remember. In my tradition, they must be the first words spoken on that day for the “luck” to stick. Half of my family is Canadian French and the rest are of Scots/English descent, so I’m not really sure from where I picked up this tradition. I also have a collection of white rabbit figurines that, until this moment, I had never given a second thought. Hmm. I inherited the majority of them from my mother, and added a few of my own. I have never thought of them as “lucky”, but maybe on some subconscious level they relate to the saying? I will add that I don’t believe in “luck”, per se. I believe you make your own luck with your words and deeds, so to me, this is just a fun monthly tradition from my childhood that I still enjoy. :)

  13. Gillian March 2, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    This is bringing back happy memories of my English father who would announce with great Gilbert & Sullivan type flourish that he was going to bring in the New Year by walking out the front door and re-entering from the back door of the house but the first thing he would say would always be “Rabbit, rabbit”! I didn’t know anyone else’s family that did the same where I grew up in North Carolina. He was a Cambridge educated scientist with a good dollop of superstition & mystical leanings. Thank you for writing about the origins of “Rabbit, rabbit”!

  14. Jean Zbinden April 1, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I am in disbelief!!!! I have been saying Rabbit Rabbit the first day of the month before I get out of bed for many decades and I never knew where I got it from! Now I know! It was my English, very superstitious grandma!!!!! Very cool article!!!

  15. Caethe April 1, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    I grew up with Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit; my husband with Rabbit Rabbit. His English ancestors arrived in Jamestown, VA in 1607; my English ancestors arrived in MA before and on the Mayflower early 1600′s; so this is a very old custom!

  16. Joanne Mattos April 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    We’re swamp Yankees of Scottish/English origin, and while I’ve never heard anyone in the family say “rabbit, rabbit”, I would be very hurt if the first person to see me on the morning of my birthday each year didn’t butter my nose! Any ideas on the origin of this tradition??

  17. Darci Vane April 1, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    My mom and I also do this. My mom first heard of it from her grandmother, my great granmother. We also were told as part of yhis ritual it was also important to say Hare, Hare as the last words the night before. I dont always remember the Hare Hare but I do rememer the Rabbit Rabbit. I try to say 2 Rabbit Rabbits for each person I want to have good luck. I dont know if it works as I dont think Im paticularly lucky but at this point I cant stop doing it. Ive done it for years!! Glad to hear there are others who have this traditin as well. And to all of you on this April 1st I say…Rabbit Rabbit!!

  18. Ellen April 7, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    I learned to say “White Rabbit” 3 times and I still try to remember to do it. Can’t hurt, right? I grew up on Quebec, don’t know if that’s the way it’s done there or just how I learned it.

Leave a Reply

Comments maybe edited for length and clarity.

yankee-giftsub-apr2014-v2