Where does the Practice of Wishing on a Shooting Star Come from?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Most children are familiar with the superstition that a wish made on a shooting star will come true. While no one knows exactly where or when the tradition of wishing on a shooting star arose, it is undoubtedly linked to the beauty and relative rarity of shooting stars and humanity's eternal fascination with the heavens. Stars have been associated since ancient times with divine powers, and even today, some people associate shooting stars with angels, so wishing on a star may be akin to offering a prayer.

A shooting star and a radio telescope.
A shooting star and a radio telescope.

Shooting stars are actually not stars at all, but meteors. A meteor is the glowing trail that appears in the sky when a meteoroid, a piece of debris in space, enters the Earth's atmosphere. Most meteoroids that come near to the Earth burn up before they reach the planet's surface, so shooting stars are often all people see of a meteoroid. Meteors appear to the human eye as glowing lights similar in size and color to stars, so to the imaginative or the uninformed, thinking of them as falling or shooting stars is quite natural.

Some people associate shooting stars with angels, so wishing on a star may be akin to offering a prayer.
Some people associate shooting stars with angels, so wishing on a star may be akin to offering a prayer.

Shooting stars may be considered lucky and ideal for wishing because they are relatively rare to see, especially in modern cities with significant light pollution, and because they come and go so quickly. Wishing on shooting stars is actually somewhat of a challenge, since they disappear almost as soon as one sees them. Therefore, it's difficult to disprove the claim that wishes made on shooting stars come true.

A well-known American nursery rhyme, "Star Light, Star Bright," makes reference to the tradition of wishing on stars, but the star in the poem is the "first star I see tonight" rather than a shooting star. "Star Light, Star Bright" is believed to date from the late 19th century, and while it is unknown whether or not the practice of wishing on stars predates the poem, it seems likely that people have been wishing on those breathtaking, mysterious heavenly bodies since well before recorded history.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


Well, if you believe in wishing upon a star its not going to hurt you.


what about the wish bone that is in a chicken. the poor chicken had bad luck, just to grant a wish to whoever gets the biggest part of the bone. i don't think so.


When I was younger, I remember the old folklore about New Years Eve wishes. It was said that whoever you kissed at midnight would be the person that you would spend your life with.

If that was the case, I would have been scoping my mate out in plenty of time to kiss them on New Years Eve!


@alex94: I have heard about the eyelash wishing too. How about making a wish when you blow out your birthday candles? I probably wished for many ponies that I never got!


Maybe we, as a society, look for any opportunity to make a wish. I can remember when my mom would lose an eyelash and make a wish. She would put the eyelash between her finger and thumb and make a wish and guess which finger it would end up on. If it landed on the one she guessed, her wish would come true!

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