Before his passing in 2003, Fred Rogers was a leader in the efforts to educate the mind, body, and spirit of children, as well as nurturing the best in adults, too. (For an example of the latter, and you may want to have some tissues ready, watch his speech accepting a lifetime achievement Emmy award, here.) And, despite the fact that he played with puppets — such as the one pictured above — he took a very rational approach to the world.
For example, he wasn’t afraid of Friday the 13th, and he didn’t want children to grow up fearing it either.
Enter King Friday XIII
If you’re old enough to know who that puppet is, you’re one of the lucky ones. That’s King Friday, the ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, a fictional, puppet-populated realm to which Mr. Rogers travelled in most episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Wikipedia describes King Friday as “relatively egocentric, irrational, resistant to change, and temperamental, although open-minded enough to listen when told he is wrong.” But his name reveals another part of his biography. His full name is King Friday XIII — that is, King Friday the 13th. That’s a reference not to his lineage (there wasn’t a King Friday XII), but to his birthday. King Friday XIII was born on Friday the 13th, and, regardless of month or frequency, every Friday the 13th was King Friday’s birthday.
In a 1999 interview with the Emmy Awards’ website, Fred Rogers explained:
“His name was King Friday XIII. We just thought that was fun because so many people are so superstitious about Friday the 13th that we thought, let’s start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day. And every Friday the 13th would be his birthday. So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came. And that was so wonderful about [broadcasting a live TV show] — when a Friday the 13th came, you knew it.”
As a nice bonus, if you were a kid who was celebrating a (real) birthday on a Friday the 13th, while most other grown ups were telling you that your special day was cursed, Mr. Rogers was throwing the King — and you — a birthday party. For a generation of children, Friday the 13th became a day of celebration, thanks to a guy and his make-believe neighborhood.
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