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

Do you know why we break the wishbone?

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?

Instagram / rgraudin

People all over the U.S. break apart a wishbone on Thanksgiving. It's thought that whoever gets the bigger part of the bone will have their wish granted.


But where did this wishbone tradition come from?

IWell, 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).

Pixabay / Capri23auto

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

Wikimedia / Žiga

They would actually use "rooster divination," or alectryomancy, which worked somewhat like the (slightly more modern) Ouija board: They would arrange bits of food on an alphabet to see which snacks the birds would go to first.

Wikimedia / Petko Yotov

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.

Flickr / vxla

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

Flickr / Clyde Robinson

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.

Instagram / cakingscakes

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

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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.

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

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

Wikimedia / Moses Parker Rice

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

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In the U.S., it's now traditional to use the turkey's wishbone to make wishes instead of one from a chicken.

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Do you and your family break the wishbone on Thanksgiving?

Wikimedia / Match Pewter Carving Set

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

This article originally appeared on LittleThings.

Tags: lifestyle