11 Aug 2009

The night of San Lorenzo, August 10th, is the night of the shooting stars, a magical midsummer night when all dreams come true.

The night of San Lorenzo

Yesterday I found out that the night of San Lorenzo, which is a big deal here in Italy, is relatively unknown outside of this country. Since apparently, due to various scientific reasons that us dreamers don’t really care about, the best time to see this year’s shooting stars (stelle cadenti in Italian, literally “falling stars”) will be on the 12th of August rather than on the 10th, I thought that I might be still in time to explain what all the fuss is about.

Let’s start with the basics… August 10th is the day on which we commemorate the martyrdom of San Lorenzo. You may wonder what this can possibly have to do with shooting stars. Well, San Lorenzo was literally roasted (yes, those Romans were not shy to invent the craziest and most painful forms of torture, I’ll give you that). Christian legend says that the shooting stars that are so easy to see on and around August 10th are the sparkles of the giant bonfire where San Lorenzo was killed.

This is the gloomy part of the story. Now back to the part we like the best!

For those who are able to forget about poor San Lorenzo, August 10th is a magical night. First of all it falls right at the heart of the summer, and I believe there is not a single Italian who does not have a fond memory of one such night.

You see, on August 10th, at least a full month into your school holidays, you have already had enough vacation time to meet new people, to fall in love, to make new best friends, to meet that special someone etc. By that time of the year you know very well what kind of summer you are having and you’re ready to make the most of it.

When the weather is nice, it’s the perfect time of the year to lie on a quiet beach or in a harvested field in the countryside and watch the sky, waiting for the next shooting star to cross it. When you see one, your instinct is to scream “Oh, did you see that!?” (I’m taking for granted that shooting star spotting is not a solo activity here…). But you are not supposed to do that, because you are supposed to keep quiet, make a wish and hope that it will come true. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter, really. It’s the night itself that’s magic.

If you happen to be in any coastal destination in Tuscany on the day of San Lorenzo, you will probably see several bonfires on the beach (which aren’t actually permitted by the way…). People organize beach parties, or house parties. They all have dinner together and then some people will stick with the group to watch the sky with a good glass of wine in their hands and others will take a walk on their own to enjoy the night in a more intimate way.

It is harder to see the stars if you are in a city. But most cities will have some sort of celebration on August 10th, and I remember a year in Pisa when they even dimmed the city lights to allow people to see the stars.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a tiny countryside village, so I never had that problem really. I would go out with my friends to the village park or by the soccer field and watch the stars there.

This year, I hope the scientists are right, and that the best night to watch the shooting stars is tomorrow night. I’m planning to go to my parents’ place in the countryside and watch them there. And then I’ll be able to remember all the San Lorenzo nights of the past. I will also remember my grandmother and my grandfather who loved that place so much and who passed away on August 10th, both of them on the same day, but 24 years apart. What are the chances of that?! Well, in the end, the night of San Lorenzo is a magic night when all dreams come true, even that of being together again after all those years…

Oh yes, I’m going home and I’ll be looking at the sky. I’ll remember all the San Lorenzo nights of the past and dream of the many more I hope to be able to enjoy in the future.


  1. What a beautiful post. A kindred spirit because I would’ve thought of all the summer loves and dreamy nights just like you. And if you see a double shooting star tonight then you’ll know its nonna and nonno.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words Lisa! You are very sweet!

  3. Francesca

    what a pretty story and thought – I hope you enjoy the beautiful evening!

  4. Tuscany is a majestic, enchanting place. Where else can you drink wine relaxing in the vineyard it was grown, sleep in historic villas, and learn to cook from master chefs. Take a look at some of my photos at http://www.tuscanway.com/tuscany/photos/. Enjoy!

  5. Hello Francesca and Tuscany Travels people! Thank you for your comments!

  6. petkiller@libero.it

    ok this it …in Tuscany

  7. What a show this must be from the hilltops of Italy! Your article reminds me of when I used to go to Cape Cod in Massachusetts to see the Perseids every mid-August…they were so plentiful and seemingly close that you could actually see their smoke trails behind them. I hope tomorrow night is the night for you and your family!!

  8. Grazie for sharing your beautiful memories of this special night–May your wish come true!

  9. grace

    I thought for sure you would mention the great film from 1980 by the Taviani Brothers…The Night of the Shooting Stars aka La Notte di San Marino or San Lorenzo. Great post Neo realist film. Not to be missed.

    • Glad you did! Thanks!

  10. Joanne aka Brookleena

    A beautiful and touching explanation of La Notte di San Lorenzo! I work at
    Eataly in NYC and every month we produce a newsletter with information about Italian culture and holidays. I am writing an article on The Night of Shooting Stars and came across your post. Although I have been traveling to Italy since 1989, I have never been there on or around August 10 (my birthday is August 19, so I tend to arrive closer to that date), so I have never experienced The Night of Shooting Stars. After reading your post, I can’t wait to see it myself. Grazie mille!

    • Thanks and sorry for the late reply!

  11. Is the Night of the Falling Stars still a celebration there in your village

    • It’s a private celebration. But many towns now have “calici sotto le stelle”: a wine festival where wine is consumed in the squares.

  12. Thank you for this beautiful post Gloria. I wish I could be there in Tuscany tonight but this helps me imagine it more deeply.


  1. […] in the car and a rejuvenating caffè macchiato, we were ready for the Sunday evening festival of San Lorenzo  in Carmignano, the night of the super full moon and falling stars or calici di stelle. […]

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