Why do we Measure Time?

Humans have always been concerned with time. 7000 years ago, we invented the sundial. 3500 years ago, we measured time in how long it took incense or oil to burn. Sand glass clocks show up about 1700 years ago, and medieval Europe repurposed the candle idea by adding time marks to the length of a candle. The first watch that resembles what we know today didn’t exist until the 1500’s, which is around when table clocks came about, too. If there’s one thing we know about people, it’s that anything that surrounds us and holds any power over our lives (think crop harvesting or rainy vs dry seasons), we’ve definitely developed superstitions about it. So while a personalized watch or clock may seem like a great gift idea today, and in most cases it very well is, you have to be aware of the recipient’s culture so as not to offend them. It might seem obscure to say, but some cultures are afraid of time.

Clocks as a Death Nell

Some people believe that being given a timepiece can cause bad luck that can even result in death. If a watch or a clock stops, they won’t fix it, because they believe a working clock will count down to someone’s death.

Counting Down to an Unfortunate Series of Events

Another folkloric belief about watches is that it is bad luck to give one to your significant other, because it means you are counting down the time you have left together. Other beliefs include the idea that a clockmaker puts his soul into making the clock, so when it breaks, his soul breaks as well.

Specifically, in traditional Chinese culture, it is very rude to give someone a watch or clock, because it is an omen of bad luck or death. Clocks themselves aren’t feared, but the gift of a clock is; the reason for this being that the Chinese phrase for “giving a clock” sounds the same as “attending a funeral.” Creepy.

Stopping Clocks to Stop Bad Luck

When someone dies, some families choose to stop the clocks in the house, for fear that leaving the clocks ticking will pass bad luck onto all who remain in the house. Similarly, some believe that stopping a clock when someone dies actually gives their spirit a peaceful moment to move onto the afterlife. This belief is said to be from ancient Germanic cultures and symbolizes the dead person transitioning into a realm where time doesn’t exist.

So, next time you’re thinking about giving someone a timepiece as a gift, consider these beliefs and whether or not they apply; you don’t want to give someone a gift you think is thoughtful and quality and end up deeply offending them.