Wishbone: History and Myth

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The history of the tradition behind breaking a turkey’s wishbone at Thanksgiving and personal wishbone wishes

Snapping a turkey’s wishbone on Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition, but have you ever wondered why this bone is called such and where this tradition of making a wish came from? ing Magazine has the answer.

Wishbone History

A turkey’s “wishbone” is technically known as a furcula, and it’s the bone formed at a turkey’s clavicles at the base of the sternum. It’s also worth mentioning that this tradition didn’t originate with classic Thanksgiving turkeys. It all started with chickens.

According to journalist Rebecca Katzma of Modern Farmer, “The English originally took up this tradition from the Romans, who retrieved it from an ancient Italian civilization called the Etruscans. The Etruscans carried the belief that chickens held a prophetic power. So every time they killed a chicken, they put the chicken’s furcula in the sun to dry to savor the chicken’s so-called powers.” So the wishbone gets its name from the Etruscans who would make wishes when holding the drying furculas of chickens.

Later, the Romans adopted the ritual. According to Katzma, “Once they got into the habit of breaking so many chicken furculas, there was a decline in chickens.” Since there weren’t enough wishes to go around in Rome, the tradition passed to the English, who in turn brought it over to Plymouth Rock. Due to the decline of chickens, the English started the tradition of snapping turkey wishbones instead.

What Did They Wish For?

Many MSU students have taken part in this Thanksgiving tradition. A few students told us about their wishbone experiences and what they wished for.

“My older sister and I were always the ones to break the wishbone on Thanksgiving Day,” said Stefanie Haapala, a senior English major. “Usually my sister would always win, but I remember that on one Thanksgiving, I shockingly won! I wished that my cousins would move back from California. Unfortunately, the wish didn’t come true because they’re still in California, and I was only seven years old at the time.”

Mackenzie Soma, a senior special education major, has taken part in the tradition since she was young. “On the day of Thanksgiving when I was really young, I made sure that my mom saved the wishbone because I was excited that it was finally my chance to break it,” said Soma. “I was against my brother, who is younger, may I add. So I had the upper hand. We were summoned to the kitchen and the two of us grabbed each side of the bone and thought long and hard about our wishes. On the count of three we yanked the bone, and I came out victorious with the bigger half. My wish hasn’t happened yet, so I am keeping it a secret.”

Senior Rachel Hurst’s wasn’t as lucky as others when it came time to break the wishbone at her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. “When I was 10 years old, it was my and my twin sister’s turn to break the wishbone out of all our cousins,” said Rachel Hurst. “Unfortunately I couldn’t make a wish because my sister got the bigger side.”


Alison Hamilton is a senior professional writing major who loves to hike, read and watch cult movies. She loves to travel around the U.S. and her favorite destinations are to the arches in Utah and in the mountains in Colorado.


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