The Friendly Battle of the Wishbone, and How It Became a Thanksgiving Tradition
Growing up, my cousins and I used to debate over who got to pull the wishbone after Thanksgiving dinner. For years, I was convinced the Thanksgiving wishbone had magic powers, and that whatever I wished for would come true if I managed to pull the larger half. As an adult, I think the tradition is a little silly, but I'm superstitious enough to still make a wish when it's my turn to pull it.
And though I believed this fun Thanksgiving tradition to be unique to my family events growing up, I've since learned the tradition pre-dates my family's get-togethers. And as it turns out, it started long before the Pilgrims landed on the Mayflower. (If you need a quick refresher, here's the history of the Thanksgiving holiday.) In fact, the practice dates so far back that the tradition is credited to multiple cultures. The farthest back it's been traced is to the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization.
Related: Why We Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving
This civilization believed that birds (especially chickens) had special powers and could predict the future. They had all sorts of rituals involving chickens, and so once a chicken was killed for food, they would remove the wishbone (which is essentially the bird's collarbone) and lay it out in the sun to dry, believing they could still access the birds' powers through the bone. People would then use the bone to make wishes or predictions for the future, hoping they would come true.
But since there were far more people than chickens, there weren't enough wishbones for everyone in the community to make a wish—so as a compromise, two people would wish on the same bone, pull it apart, and whoever ended up with the bigger half would 'win.'
The Etruscans passed this tradition down to the Romans, who brought it to England. When the English came to the American colonies, they brought the tradition with them. Over the years, chicken turned into turkey (which was more available at that time than other poultry) but the tradition of wishing on the wishbone has remained.
So if you win the battle of the wishbone this Thanksgiving, you can thank the Etruscans when your wish comes true.