The Story Behind the Wishbone Superstition

posted: 11/20/16
by: Kelly McClure
Two people breaking a wishbone
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Two people breaking a wishbone

This Thanksgiving, when you and your family wrestle over who gets to break the wishbone, impress them by being one of few to know the origins of why that became a tradition. The Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization of ancient Italy (now known as Tuscany) believed that birds could be used to tell the future. They would draw elaborate symbols on the ground, divided into wedges that each indicated a certain outcome, and then let chickens loose to see which section they chose. Afterwards the chicken would be killed and eaten, and their furcula (the wishbone) would be laid out to dry to preserve the bird's power. Once fully dried, people would touch it to make a wish on it - which is where the word "wishbone" comes from.

When the Romans learned of this tradition from the Etruscans, they got thrifty by breaking the wishbone instead of just touching it, so two people could get a wish out of the same bone. Whoever got the bigger piece during the break would have their wish granted, which is the tradition that stuck and eventually made its way to America, where we applied it to both chickens, and--more commonly--turkeys.

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[via: Mental Floss]