- The belief that it is very unlucky to light three cigarettes from one match is still extremely well known. The popular explanation is that it is a soldier's superstition: in the trenches, an enemy sniper would use the light made by a match to locate a target. Keeping the match burning to light three cigarettes gave him time to take proper aim and fire, whereas two would not. The superstition certainly came to be widely known during the First World War, and the earliest concrete reference is a letter from Private Bradstow published in N&Q in 1916. Various commentators have written that the belief was held during the Boer War (1899-1902), while others place it in the Crimean War (1853-6), but with no evidence for their assertions. None of the standard folklore collections published before the First World War mentions it. There have been various attempts to connect this belief with older ones concerning three *candles, but this is unlikely. Cigarette packets feature in a children's superstition/custom. Iona and Peter Opie (1959) report that children in the 1950s, and before, on finding packets of particular brands - Black Cat, Player's Navy Cut, Churchman's Tenner are mentioned - stamp on them and say a rhyme, for example:Black cat, black cat, bring me luck If you don't I'll tear you up■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 55, 82; N&Q, 12s:1 (1916), 208, 276; 12s:9 (1921), 528; 12s:10 (1922), 38-9, 116; Opie and Opie, 1959: 222-3.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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