Saying Rabbit, Rabbit | The Luck of the English

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rabbit-rabbit-luck-dtToday is the first day of the month and Rabbit! was the first word spoken in this house. Have you ever wondered why people say Rabbit! or Rabbit, Rabbit! on this day? 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!

Comments
  • 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 !”

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  • 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!

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  • 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.

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  • Katherine

    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!

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  • 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

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  • 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

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

    Yes!

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  • 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?

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

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  • 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. :)

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  • Gillian

    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”!

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  • 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!!!

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  • Caethe

    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!

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  • Joanne

    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??

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  • 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!!

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  • 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.

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  • I was born and raised in the Caribbean As long as I can remember my family had followed this tradition of “rabbit,rabbit” which I thought was concocted by my very superstitious mother. How comforting to know tha

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  • My DIL whose family is from Connecticutt also has the tradition of buttering the nose of the birthday guy. She doesn’t know why’

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  • Kelly

    I was raised in Michigan by a 2nd generation Irish American and a 10th generation English American (our great + grandfather arrived in Jamestown in 1619) and we never had a first of the month tradition. However, we lived in Australia for 3 years and picked up the tradition of “Pinch and a punch, first of the month” like a commenter above living in Ireland. It’s interesting how these traditions travel!

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  • My mother, of Irish descent, always said “Rabbit” on the first day of each month. I have continued this tradition with one modification. On the first of May I say “Bunny, Bunny” and on the first of June I say “Bunny.” My two daughters were born in May and my son was born in June. My ex-husband and I still text it to each other esch May and June! Great tradition!

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  • Edie, my mom by the same as you, was faithful to this tradition in our New Haven CT household. She had paternal English roots though our family was predominately Irish American. She had a rhyme I wish I could remember it completely…”Rabbit, Rabbit, you nab it and you can have it; Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!”

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  • Carolyn

    The tradition I know is that “rabbit, rabbit” has to be the first words spoken on the 1st day of the month in order to have good luck all month. HOWEVER, if you forget, you can still save the month by walking down the stairs backward (while saying “rabbit, rabbit”) and washing your face with the morning dew.

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  • Shannon

    I am from Rhode Island, and my grandfather always buttered our noses on our birthdays… and now we keep the tradition going. I have no idea where it came from, but most of my friends think we’re crazy for doing so!

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  • Christine

    If you forget to say rabbit, you can still make your month lucky by say it backwards twice:
    Tibbar, Tibbar!

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  • I remembered to say Rabbit, Rabbit this morning, for good luck this month of June.
    I started it with my friend, Maria in 1976, who introduced it to me. It stuck! It can’t hurt. It’s fun in a unique way.

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  • Susan

    I am so glad to hear so many of you do this and the history of it. Yesterday I whispered it, as I was staying at the home of a friend and thought she might think me crazy. Whenever we learned of this it came with the need to hang off the bottom of the bed and say Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit. I think my sister brought it home from a year in Switzerland. For decades I gave it up as I had had the one of the worst months of my life, following the monthly ritual. Now I wonder how much worse it might have been had I not said it. Now with this abbreviated version and no need to do anything but speak, I am back in the game.

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  • Luna17

    My husband and I made up a New Year’s Eve tradition of running around the house at midnight for good luck (north of Boston, usually cold). Those who scoffed were always the first to run screaming out the door at midnight.

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  • I say happy rabbit,rabbit day to my mother and her sisters every first of the month. My mom passed away in 96 and her sisters before her. they called each other every 1st of the month and wished each other happy rabbit,rabbit day every 1st of the month so i yell up to them every 1st of the month to keep it going for them,but i don’t the meaning of it.

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  • Here in Decatur GA we say “bunnies”. Got it from a friend 22years ago.

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  • I always wondered where this came from! My sister and I used to always say this, but we got it from a book series – the Trixie Belden mysteries. I never gave it much thought until I read a blog where the person said that her family competed to see who could be the first person to say “Rabbit Rabbit” on the first of the month. I decided to finally look it up – close to 40 years later – and see where it came from. Now I know. :-)

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  • I got it from Trixie Belden, too! Never knew the origin until I Googled it tonight.

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  • Scotch irish mother and her sister always said rabbit at the first of the month. I always thought it was just their tradition . when i was in college i forgot about this and yet after my mother died i found myself thinkikng about all the small kind thoughtful and fun things she used to do and this was one of them .

    So like others on this blog i am ” back in the game” and i know where it came from

    thank you !! RABBIT and good luck to you this and every month

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  • My family has been saying “rabbit rabbit” since forever as well. If forgotten before getting out of bed we say “tibbar, tibbar”. Also, as a Rhode Islander, we grew up with butter on our birthday noses.

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  • Did your grandmother teach you to butter peoples noses when they woke up on their birthday, Edie?

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  • my family also had tourtierre every Christmas eve, we called it tutcare :)

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  • I also grew up saying “rabbit” and continue to do so. My mother did this with us, and her family came to the US from Poland when she was a tot. However, I had a coworker from Russia, and she insisted it was “rabbit rabbit” (two times).

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  • In our family we always competed to be the first to say Rabbit! one time on the first day of the month … and I’ve continued the tradition with my husband and children. It’s fun! I added the rule that you can’t say it to a person’s back … you need to see their eyes! (Otherwise it isn’t satisfying … and the other person needs to be trying, too.) This tradition came from my dad’s Irish grandmother, I believe. The other side is all early New England.

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  • I say this to my family and we try to make it a contest to see who can say it first……..

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  • I’ve been “rabbiting” on the first day of the month for over sixty years. However, an important variation in my family is that on March 1st. you must shout “hare”! Has anyone else come across this quirk?

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  • I read this on 11/1. The night before we ate rabbit sausages. We always greet each other with happy first of the months abyhow but for no other reason than its a new month.
    I thought…how close I came in way.
    Now I know …

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  • When I first read of this, I started doing it, saying Rabbit Rabbit White Rabbit on waking on the 1st of the month. Now, I’m an adoptee raised in a primarily German family. When I found my birth ma it turned out I am primarily Irish-Scottish & English- her father’s line 100% English (0% German at this point). Following English folk ways feels to me like I am reaching out to my ancestors, reaching to my roots.

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  • My grandmother (family from PEI of Irish/English descent) ALWAYS did this – there was something about the butter helping you slide into the next year.

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  • I’m from CT and many of the Italian families in our area would use the butter cream frosting of the birthday cake to “butter” your nose. The belief was that it “greased you through to the next year.” As for the “rabbit” there’s a mix here. Many of my friends say “Rabbit, Rabbit” while I say “White Rabbit”. I was always under the impression that it had something to do with “Alice in Wonderland” but I was never quite sure what. I’m not superstitious so I think it’s a fun thing to do but, quite honestly, I forget more than I remember.

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  • My Grandmother always said Hares Hares Rabbits Rabbits on the 1st of everymonth and they had to be the first words said for luck. Also when there was a full moon you had to face the moon and turn over silver in your hand, this would usually be a sixpence or a 5p piece.

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  • So the teaser was “Why”, and you have no answer beyond some “mights” and “seems”.
    Just my luck.

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  • My family has been doing this since I was a kid, and I am 74. We practice it monthly, with a little gamesmanship as to who does it first. But near and far, to our relatives and loved ones, we text, call, e-mail to our closest and say Rabbit! Sometimes with pictures of Rabbits. It is a short touch of love and to say good luck for the month. I knew that others did it, but didn’t have all this history. Yes, my folks were mostly English and came here in the 1600’s. It definitely was from my maternal side. Mom and Grama are gone now and I am the one to keep the kids in touch with each other. We won’t stop it, it is a fun and loving thing.

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  • When you wake up on the first day of the month, you are also required,after saying “rabitt, rabbit”, to climb out of bed via the bottom of the bed. If you don’t do both the saying and the climbing you are doomed to have a bad month!

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  • Saying “rabbit, rabbit” on the first of the month was something I heard about through others, so it wasn’t a family tradition.. As far as keeping the smoke away at a campfire, I was told to say “I hate rabbits!” I like your version better, Heather.

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  • Well I thank you all for the personal reflections, yet I remain seeking the origin of the declaration (exp. The origin hails from a 13’th century king, etc.) but have not been able to find one. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stories, and utter the the expression every month. I hold if forgotten, the only way not to be cursed for the month, is when realized that you spoke prior to speaking “rabbit, rabbit” upon waking for the month is to stop dead in one’s track and to express the words loudly and without care where one is, or what one is doing. I would love to hear what other individuals do, or their parents do did or have done for years. I heard that FDR carried a rabbit’s foot in his pocket for most of his life. True or not true I am not sur but remain intrigued by.

    Well good luck to all,
    Bill

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  • Interesting! I am also a Swamp Yankee and grew up saying “Rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit” on the first of every month. Never heard of buttering the birthday nose.

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  • Kristina

    hello.im wanting to buy a lucky rabbit’s foot but i have a question first..#1 what do i do or say to the rabbit’s foot and is there a certain time i have to do or say something to the rabbit’s foot if so what time do i have to do this..if people can give me some tips before 4-3-15 that would be nice.thank you

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  • I love this tradition! I learned it by saying 3 times
    But I always forget to do it! I guess that’s why I have not have much good luck

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  • Rebekah

    Thanks for finally talking about >Why People Say Rabbit Rabbit
    on the First Day of the Month <Loved it!

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  • I was taught to utter “rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of a new month before saying ANYTHING else. To bring good luck, it had to be the very first words spoken. Also, the original tradition (at least as it was taught to me) was to say “rabbit, rabbit” while hopping down stairs backward, which sounds more likely to end in disaster than to bring good luck, so we skip the hopping downstairs bit… I’ve only met a couple of people who admit to following the “rabbit, rabbit” tradition on the first day of a new month, so it’s good to know there are many others!

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  • I realized that tomorrow was the 1st and it was Friday and I remember what I was told 13 years ago. I was looking this up because a co worker from Jamaica told me this. But she explained it was important to do it especially when the 1st falls on a Friday. But the saying was ” Bunny Rabbit, Bunny Rabbit bring me luck. ” Anyone else heard it this way?

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  • Jennifer

    I grew up saying this and continued the tradition with my kids. Im 46 and today is the first time I actually googled to find out how this started. Funny that I found your article. Its a tradition I hope to continue with my grandkids eventually!

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  • carla

    I am part of a huge worldwide house rabbit community on the web as well as a volunteer at a rabbit sanctuary.I have done this for so long,my family on both sides is of English ancestry also,as well as numerous online and personal friends that are also in this community of rabbit owners and rabbit lovers.Always heard that to say this on the first of the month was indeed for good fortune and good luck.I say White Rabbit and Rabbit three times for security,lol.

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  • Alice

    I heard that you were supposed to say “Hare, hare” last thing before going to sleep on the last day of the month, then “Rabbit, rabbit” first thing in the new month. I was never able to remember to do both.

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  • I say “I love white rabbits” over and over. I think it’s from girl scouts but no one else seems to know it (although they have gotten the habit from me), I was starting to think it was a made up memory!

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  • Mercy

    I’ve always wondered about this tradition. My children were taught by friends in the 1970’s to say “rabbit, rabbit,rabbit” upon awakening the first of every month, and I have continued to do so. I read that Gilda Radner, the great comedienne always said “bunny, bunny” on the first day of the month, and figured these practices must be related. Although the purported reason is to bring good luck, I see it as a consciousness exercise. You have to maintain a continuing consciousness from night till morning, and an awareness of time. I’m 77 and have had good luck most of my life, so I guess it works!

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  • Paige

    My mother is from Beverly MA and my brother and I grew up saying Rabbit Rabbit on the first day of the month, although we were taught that the first one to say it got the luck and the rest of us were out of luck. I’ve taught my kids (too well) and now one or both of them will text me at midnight on the first of the month. I think I like the idea that everybody is lucky if they say it. My mother also said you were supposed to do a somersault off the end of the bed, but then I think she realized the hazard that posed.

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  • Joanna

    I heard of this habit/tradition for the very first time just this morning! Hadn’t gotten around to looking it up yet though so, thanks!

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  • Marie

    I love this tradition but have adapted it a bit. “Rabbits” on the first day of the month gives good luck. The first person to say it to another is the receiver! When I taught school, I would give a piece of candy – a Jolly Rancher – to any student who said Rabbits to me, as a thank you for wishing me good luck. So it can work both ways. I still do this with my youngest daughter and her daughter, and my friend Ed who was my team teacher. He actually is better at remembering than I am!

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  • I was raised in Poland, I am 100% Polish and I also say White Rabbit White Rabbit White Rabbit (always x 3) on the 1st day of a month. A couple of years ago I picked it up from my English friends and I liked it very much. It ‘s better to be protected!:-) I spread it among my friends now.
    Happy Rabit Day to everybody!

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  • When I was in boarding school in the 1960s I learned to say “Bunny, bunny” last thing before going to sleep, and “Rabbit, rabbit” first thing on waking up. I didn’t even remember why until I came across this article while browsing. I rarely remembered both morning & night, and stopped trying before long. But I still think of it from time to time at the change of months.

    I also remember, vaguely, a couple traditions about riding past a graveyard that some friend(s) taught me. I think one was simply to hold your breath, and the other to keep repeating “bunny” over & over until you were past the graves. Wish I could remember who taught me those. I wonder if this use of “bunny” is related to the one at the end of the month?

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  • I have been saying “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit” on the first of the month since my college days when a friend introduced me to the tradition (or oddity, if you will). It has since been validated by a few co-workers who share the habit. I also find photos or illustrations of rabbits (in threes, of course) to share on my Facebook page.

    When others ask me if it REALLY brings me good luck during the month, my reply is, “Of course! And just to prove it, imagine how bad my month would have been if I had FORGOTTEN to say it!!” That quiets them down … :)

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  • Not sure what happened to my message, my mother told me was old saying, and they used in in WW2 as when they could expect new kits. Usually only 3 were kept to slaughter weight. hence rabbit rabbit rabbit for fresh meat each month. Lucky indeed during starvation times.

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  • I was brought up in NH, and my mother and her friend vied to be first to call and say rabbit rabbit each month. I have heard Robin Roberts on Good morning America say it, so knew it had some following. I asked my English neighbor, and she was not aware of it. We are of English descent, so guess that is where we got it. My husband thinks I am a bit looney, but that’s OK.

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  • Thank you for posting this. I always love Rabbits my whole life. This information is very informative. I started thinking about the idea of how the Rabbit is lucky. I decided to Google it and find out more. My opinion is that saying the word rabbit once or twice or however many times on the first of the month or any day of the month does wonders for the person who speaks it. Rabbit is the common name of a beautiful animal. Careful observation of the Rabbit (s) over time will provide a very important lesson (s). One of the main lessons is one that can account for great success if precisely followed. Success, happiness and Protection from evil forces are only a list of some of the virtues that can be realized by people.
    I live in Florida near Tampa my only desire in life is to open up a Rabbit Sanctuary a safe haven for Rabbits.

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  • I have said “Rabbit, Rabbit” since grammar school in the early 60s yet never knew why. Some of my friends told me about it, but never the reason. It was also explained that you had to jump off the end of your bed. When the ceiling started to shower bits and pieces, I was told no more rabbits jumping off the bed!

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  • I first heard this from a weather man radio announcer..may years ago..if you google it you will find that you should say Black Rabbit Black Rabbit the night before !

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  • When I was a camper at a summer camp, we said “Rabbit Rabbit” to make the smoke blow the other way at campfires. There was also the saying that “Smoke follows beauty.”

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  • In my family if you forget your Rabbits on the first day of the month you can make up for it by saying Squirrel Squirrel

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  • Rabbit. Rabbit. It’s February 1

    My college roommate at the Univ of Illinois introduced me. Her family always did it. Somehow I thought it as related to Alice in Wonderland.

    I like some the explanations. Jump into a new month. Lucky rabbits’ feet!

    Some days at my school I do morning announcements and before the 1st I remind all 400 kids to say rabbit rabbit and to run around their room 3 times when they wake up. I’ve always wondered how many kids do it and remember it.

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  • I’m Jamaican and I was told to say” White Rabbit White Rabbit White Rabbit, bring me good luck good luck good luck” but it had to be the first thing said out of your mouth that day…No “hellos” or “good mornings” first. I also remember the magic was made complete by gentle patting your head against your pillow rhythmically while saying the words! As you know Jamaica was ruled by England for many years and I too have a great deal of Scottish/English and Irish in my blood.

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  • I think that is wonderful and I hope your dreams to keep rabbits safe comes true <3

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  • Yes Bill, I am Jamaican and learned that you are supposed to say White Rabbit White Rabbit White Rabbit bring me good luck good luck good luck while hitting your head gently against your pillow case first thing before you rise. It has to be the first words you utter too :)

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  • Yes, my family has the same tradition on March 1: “Hares” instead of “Rabbits.” My mother is from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire (England), but moved to the US in 1965. She passed away last year, but we keep up the tradition to honor our British heritage!

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