Whenever a turkey is served, there could be an unbroken wishbone if the chef and carver are careful. And if you follow tradition, you could be in for some good luck. Here's how it all began.
Our Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps like yours, ends with a special ceremony. Around Stately Martha Manor, our patriarch, Bruce, will ceremonially place the wishbone, the "pulley bone" as his grandmother called it, on the lighted shelf above the sink. There it remains until Easter when it's bone dry. Then we dust it off and use it for its main purpose - not as a support for a turkey's head, but to bring good luck to the person who comes away with the largest piece of bone in a little tug of war for two. For anyone unfamiliar with this tradition, each person takes hold of one end of the turkey's double-pronged clavicle. They pull until it breaks. The winner gets a wish.
There are several tricks that might help you win the contest.
All this competition began at least 2,400 years ago with the Etruscans who lived on the Italian peninsula. The Etruscans believed fowl were fortune tellers because the hen announced she would be laying an egg with a squawk and the rooster told of the coming of a new day with his early morning crowing. A circle was drawn in the dirt and divided into twenty wedges that represented the twenty letters in the Etruscan alphabet. A piece of grain would be placed in each wedge. A hen would then be allowed to peck at the grain. As she ate, a scribe would list the letters in order and those letters would be interpreted by the high priests to answer questions.
When one of these chickens was killed, its collarbone was considered sacred and left under the hot sun to dry. Anyone was permitted to stroke an unbroken bone and make a wish, thus, the name wishbone. The Romans took many of the Etruscan customs as their own and since everyone wanted good fortune, they fought over the bones, breaking them.
It is said that the phrases "I need a lucky break" or "I never get a break" come from being the loser in this tug of chicken bone contest.
The English heard of this superstition from the Romans and called their wishbones merry thoughts after the merry or happy wishes that most people desired. When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in the New World, they brought along the custom of breaking the wishbone. When they discovered the northeastern woods of North America were filled with turkeys, they changed their custom from the chicken bone to the turkey bone.
Every time you have the privilege of breaking the wishbone or witnessing someone else doing it, just remember that's how they did it way back when. Wayyyyyyy back.
Happy Thanksgiving, and may all your wishes come true!
a DOG named Wishbone ▼
click on the photos of the bison to enlarge them
summer - fall 2004 Nature Conservancy's Spirit of the Buffalo public art project in OKC
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