Residence: Seattle, Washington
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian
“Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.”
While waiting for a Fourth of July fireworks show, my informant first heard this rhyme from her mother, who taught it to her and told her to watch for the first star. My informant recalls being restless and was likely annoying her parents, so her mother probably taught her the rhyme to keep her busy looking for the first star until the show began. My informant distinctly remembered her mother telling her that you must first see the star, then recite the rhyme, and only then could she make a wish. If she did not follow that order, the wish would not come true. When she finally saw a star in the sky, she recited the rhyme and wished that her pets at home would be ok and that the loud fireworks nearby would not scare them.
My informant suggested that this rhyme is simple and is likely to be shared only between children and the parents of those children. She also believes that many parents likely use this rhyme to quiet their children before they go to bed. If they’re preoccupied looking out the window for a star, they’re not making a fuss. It’s interesting to note that this rhyme also operates as a superstition, because it details how one can make a wish. My informant is not completely sure of whether or not the rhyme or the superstition came first, but imagines that the superstition came first and the originator of the rhyme took the details of the wish and made them rhyme. My informant tried to remember if an improper recitation of the rhyme has any impact on a wish, but she doesn’t believe one needs to say the rhyme correctly for their wish to come true. As long as someone sees the first star in the sky, performs the rhyme, and make a wish, in that order, the wish is likely to come true.
There are several interesting aspects of this rhyme that can be analyzed to gain an understanding to why it is still being passed down from generation to generation. First, wishing this way means you can only wish once per day, and this limit is likely to make a wisher more sincere in their requests. Also, the lines, “I wish I may, I wish I might,” suggest that the star that is being wished upon is of a higher authority and can permit and deny the wishes it chooses. This superstition is unique because it suggests that a wish may or may not be granted, while most superstitions indicate exactly what is to occur. There is no guarantee this wish will be granted, so one must have faith that by performing the rhyme, their wish will be granted more likely than if they had not.
I have lived in Los Angeles County my entire life, and my personal opinion is that it’s considerably difficult to wish upon a star because the first star cannot be seen through the smog. Also, with all of the planes and satellites in the sky, it can sometimes be tedious to find a star among bright objects in the sky. For this reason, children may be performing the rhyme less frequently nowadays. Also, the rhyme says I should wish on, “the first star I see tonight,” but I’ve heard that for the wish to come true, the wish must be made when there is only one visible star in the entire sky. This prevents you from walking outside at midnight and making any star wishing star. This version instills patience, and makes your wish mean something, because you have to wait for the perfect moment when there is only one visible star.