Making a Wish on a Shooting Star
I first came across this piece of folklore when I was driving about six months ago on the Interstate 5 highway. On the way to the Weekender for the USC versus UC Berkeley football game, I was with my friend Alex and a couple of others. I do not quite remember where we were; wherever it was, it was far removed from any city lights. We could see the stars above in a way that was utterly impossible in the bright city of Los Angeles. As I watched the road ahead, I suddenly saw a flash of light across the sky. It was a shooting star. Startled, I announced my sighting. Immediately my friend Alex told me to make a wish. As I was about to tell her my wish, she stopped me, saying that if I told anybody before it came true, it would not come true at all.
I knew very little about this belief; I have lived all my life in the urban area of Los Angeles county, where stars are rarely seen. The towering lines of skyscrapers, along with the smoggy air and blaring city lights crowd out the feeble light of the stars. As shooting stars are themselves a rare occurrence, and coupled with the fact that I rarely see the stars, it is understandable that I had never before seen a shooting star. None of my friends who had lived around this area in the car had ever heard of the wish-making belief either. This can perhaps be attributed to our geographic location without clear view of the sky, beliefs and rituals concerning the stars are understandably rare.
However my friend Alex, also a freshman here at USC, was from Portland, Oregon. She explained how in her city, a small suburb off of Portland, the stars crowd the sky every night. This is one of the main things she misses here in Los Angeles. With such greater visibility of the stars, I speculated that it was natural that beliefs such as the one she related to me had developed in her area. It is understandable that in any area where the stars are a very real, visible part of the night, beliefs concerning them will arise.
After doing some research on the internet, I soon found that perhaps I had been isolated in my little town of Hermosa Beach. Numerous references to this idea of making a wish after seeing a shooting star existed. From movies to novels to blogs, it seemed everybody except me had known about this belief. An NBA.com article used the phrase Wish a upon a Shooting Star for its title. Megan Quant published a childrens book entitled The Shooting Star Wish. A Disney movie starring Katherine Heigl, which debuted in 1995 was entitled Wish Upon a Star. In this movie, sisters wish to swap places with each other after seeing a shooting star; the next morning, to their surprise, they have swapped places, finding themselves in each others bodies. From Hollywood to the media and even to the libraries of children, this belief that one should make a wish after seeing a shooting star is very popular.
This is a very novel idea. In this age where so much emphasis is placed on pure science and cold reason, this idea invokes the concept of wishes magically coming true. When so many say that there is nothing that we cannot see, this belief is rooted in the unseen. In a world where everybody is told they must fend for themselves, this belief offers a ray of hope that is beyond the scope of this human world. It is appealing to say the least; perhaps its appealing nature has led to its widespread propagation throughout the American culture.