history

The Fascinating History Behind Why We Wish On Our Thanksgiving Turkey’s Wishbone

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is the Editor of Original Content at LittleThings. She grew up in upstate New York and Oregon and now lives in Queens, NY. Ileana graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in sociology. After graduating, she attended the Columbia Publishing Course in New York City, then worked as in marketing at Oxford University Press. Since transitioning to editorial, she has written for sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Unwritten. She has also worked for local newspapers and magazines in upstate New York. In her free time, you can find Ileana watching Law and Order: SVU, eating ice cream, and spending time with her dog.

Thanksgiving is finally here, which means it’s also the official start of the holiday season!

Even if spending time with your family is stressful, there’s something so wonderful about being surrounded by people who love and care about you.

Everyone has a different thing they enjoy about Thanksgiving. From watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to baking delicious pumpkin and pecan pies, to gobbling up the turkey, there’s at least one part of the holiday for all to love.

As a kid, my favorite tradition was definitely breaking the wishbone with my little brother. We’d each grab onto one side of the turkey’s wishbone and on the count of three, we’d pull to see who got the bigger end (I almost always won).

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had no idea why we wish on the turkey’s wishbone. Do you know the history of the wishbone?

Thumbnail Photos: Wikimedia / Match Pewter Carving Set // Instagram / scheduledescape

[H/T: Mental Floss]

People all over the US break apart a wishbone on Thanksgiving.

It’s thought that whoever gets the bigger part of the bone will have their wish granted.

thanksgiving turkey

But where did this wishbone tradition come from?

Well, it actually dates back to the ancient Romans, who were known to save and pull apart chicken clavicles (what we now refer to as the wishbone).

chickens

The Romans believed that chickens were oracles who could predict the future.

roosters

They would actually use “rooster divination,” or alectromancy, which worked somewhat like a Ouija board: they would arrange bits of food on an alphabet to see which snacks the birds would go to first.

furcula

When the chickens died (or were killed for meat), they would save the clavicle bone so that they could still access the bird’s powers.

Why exactly they chose to save this particular bone is unknown.

thanksgiving meal

A bird’s wishbone is actually the furcula, which is formed by two clavicles (the human versions are the collarbones) that are fused together.

Back in the day, people would make wishes on these bones, stroke them, and hold them to reap some of the benefits of the magical birds’ powers.

broken wishbone

Later, there was an increase in demand for chicken clavicles, but the supply didn’t increase.

wishbone piece

This is when people started breaking the bones in two.

When this began, so did the idea that whoever got the bigger part of the bone would have their wish granted.

clavicle wishbone

In the 16th century, the tradition made its way to England.

Then, during the Colonial era, the wishbone came over to the US with the settlers.

When President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in the 1800s, the term “wishbone” finally came to be.

wishbone turkey

Now, in the US it’s traditional to use the turkey’s wishbone to make wishes instead of chickens.

break wishbone

Do you and your family break the wishbone on Thanksgiving?

If you don’t, maybe this is the year to start!

carving turkey

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