“When it’s the minute [11:11], I close my eyes and make a wish. I try and repeat is as many times as I can until the minutes is over. It usually involves crossing my fingers because I’ve been told that it makes it better.”
When and how did you learn this?
“I’m sure in elementary school, it was one of the few luck superstitions I was taught. I heard in passing, like no one teaches you ‘sit down and do this.’”
My informant is my roommate. She went to public elementary school in Los Angeles. I noticed her pointing out the time 11:11 am, so I asked her to explain it to me. We were standing in our kitchen looking at the digital clock on our oven.
Wish-making rituals are very common (wishing on a star, making a wish on an eyelash, etc.) but what’s so interesting about this ritual is that it’s origin can be dated, and a terminus post quem can be established. The time 11:11 only looks special on digital clocks because it’s four 1s in a row. It doesn’t look or feel special on an analog clock. Therefore, this ritual must have been established after the invention and popularization of digital clocks.
I first heard this belief from my father, who would always take me to the Placentia Library on Sundays to read books together, when I was in second grade, about seven years old. Outside, there was a large fountain that was beautiful and I loved to play around it. One day my father handed me a penny and told me to toss it into the fountain. When I asked him why, he told me that whenever I toss a penny into a fountain of water I can make a wish and it’ll come true. At the time I believed him, although I soon realized that this wish was much like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and making wishes after blowing away the seeds of a dandelion. However, making a wish in a way lets me let go of something that I really want. Now whenever I make a wish it is to release something I’m holding inside, and it feels like I’m lifting a burden off my chest.
This wishmaking is reflective of an optimistic, yet creative society where one can dream whatever one wishes. It also goes along with the United States’ futuristic worldview, where one can do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she tries hard enough. Dreaming and wishing is only the first step to achieving those goals. I believe that this wishmaking is a very useful tool for helping people find out what their true inner desires are. You know that what you want most is what you wish for, so all you have to do is wish, then work to make that wish come true. I think this is also why it is appealing to many people as well, because the idea of wishing anything they want and having it granted without the work that goes along with it is a nice feeling, but it also help them figure out what they really do want in life at that moment. I also think that the idea of wishing with water came from the idea of the wishing well where one could make wishes into a well but it somehow evolved into a fountain.
This phrase was said to the informant on her birthday in January every year since she could remember speaking. It is tradition for the family and/or friends to sing “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear [informant’s name], happy birthday to you.” Following the Happy Birthday song, the family members and friends are supposed to remind the birthday person to make a silent wish and blow out all of the candles in one blow so that the wish will come true. For her family especially, they like to blow out the candles, make a wish, and then keep the wish a secret or else it will not come true. The informant feels that this is not especially symbolic of anything, except that as the birthday girl, she should have something special that sets her apart from the others whose birthday it is not, so she gets a wish. In turn, she likes to give the same opportunity to everyone else she celebrates birthdays with and the secret wish is always made.
This tradition is a tradition found commonly everywhere around the United States, especially because the Happy Birthday song is in English. However, there are variations in other languages such as Spanish. In both cultures, it is traditions to have the same number of candles on the birthday cake as the number of years the birthday girl or boy has lived. Sometimes this tradition lasts until old age. As a young person blows out the candles, she is blowing them all in one blow in hopes that her wish may come true. She usually also blows out the candles herself, without any help, showing the strength and independence of the younger generation. As the birthday person grows older and is blowing out seventy or eighty candles, blowing out the candles is a symbol of health and strength. Often if the person is old she will also be helped by the younger generation, often little children younger than five years old, which I believe is symbolic of the young helping out the old. However, though the people blowing out the candles may change, one thing always remains the same. The birthday child, teen, parent, or grandparent will always receive one silent wish after the candles have all been blown out.
My informant learned this superstition when she was very young, so she doesn’t recall when she learned it. She has been taking part of this superstition ever since she was in elementary school, where she probably learned it from a friend. Whenever she sees a stray eyelash other people’s faces, she takes the eyelash, puts it on their finger and tells them to make a wish and blow the eyelash off. She puts the eyelash on her finger if she finds an eyelash on her face and follows the same procedure.
She said that she does not believe in this superstition, yet she does it anyway. According to her, there is no validity to this superstition, so she doesn’t believe her wishes will come true. She believes that this eyelash superstition exists because losing an eyelash is more unusual than losing strands of hair. Wishing with a strand of a hair would definitely not be as special because people lose many strands of hair everyday.
She tells this superstition because it has become a routine if she sees a loose eyelash. It has become embedded in her that she has an automatic reaction to tell it.
Like the superstition of making a wish at 11:11, I do not necessarily believe that blowing an eyelash off my finger while making a wish will make my wish come true. The willingness of a person to make his or her wish happen is what makes a wish come true. Usually people do not rely on an eyelash wish, so they take action and make it happen. I believe that eyelash wishing does contribute to making a wish become reality, but a person’s actions are what makes it become reality.