Today is Friday the 17th. So what, huh? Well, the number 17 and in particular Friday the 17th is considered unlucky in Italy. And in my opinion Italians are more superstitious than Americans, although in this particular case- Friday plus 13 or 17- Americans seem to be alarmed more for Friday the 13th.
So why the problems with this particular day for the Italians? Reportedly, it is a combination of Friday being unlucky as the day Jesus died, and Pythagoras getting his panties in a twist because 17 is between the vastly superior numbers 16 and 18. But Pythagoras (who was actually based in Italy, although Greek) was also vehemently opposed to fava beans, as you can see here. So his cred is corrupted, as much as I love Greek philosophy.
Relevant words to keep in mind. Sfiga- bad luck. The Italian word for loser is sfigato. Another word- scaramanzia. This is the action required to ward off bad stuff, as when we knock on wood for luck (the Italians say "touch iron.") Slightly embarrassing but highly amusing: Italian males will sometimes touch their -ahem- balls to ward off bad luck. But the gesto scaramantico par excellence is the sign of the horns (upraised hand, index and pinky held out.) Jella is yet another word for bad luck.
One last scaramantico custom. Especially in the performing world, or for any other important event, one should say: in bocca al lupo (into the wolf's mouth.) To which the other person answers: crepi il lupo (may the wolf die).