About The Wishbone . . . .

At countless Thanksgiving dinner tables today two people will be designated to grasp the two ends of the wishbone, think of a wish, and pull — and whoever ends up with the bigger part of the bone is supposed to get their wish.

Why do we do this?

It’s an ancient practice, one that dates back to long before the first Thanksgiving near Plymouth Rock.  It goes all the way back to the pre-Roman Etruscan civilization, which used chickens to tell the future — and started the practice of focusing on the furcula, which is the proper name for the wishbone.  The Etruscans, gentle souls that they were, stroked the dried wishbone as they made their wishes for the future.

Leave it to the Romans, and their competitive ways, to decide that the Etruscans were right to focus on the furcula, but were wrong in how they treated it — and that the best way to get a wish granted was to break the wishbone in a contest that ensured there was a winner and a loser.  And as the Romans conquered the world, their bone-breaking tradition was borrowed by other cultures, including the inhabitants of the remote island outpost of the empire, who — centuries later — shipped it across the Atlantic to the New World.

Much as we might admire the Etruscans and their views on avian divination, if you’re offered the wishbone today, I suggest taking a firm grip and yanking for all you’re worth.

Thinking Of Thanksgiving Traditions

For many of us, Thanksgiving is rich with family traditions.  Whether it is food, decorations, or the timing of the big meal, the traditions connect us to earlier times and people who are no longer with us but whose spirits live on, undiminished, in our memories.  The traditions are a big part of why, for many people, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday.

Recently Mom and the five Webner kids had dinner and reminisced about Thanksgivings of days gone by and some of the traditions that prevailed during our childhoods.

Mom putting little wax candles of pilgrims and turkeys at every place setting at the Thanksgiving table.  A large cardboard representation of a big-breasted tom turkey with deep red wattles on the front door to greet our guests.  Native American headdresses made at school from construction paper, each ersatz feather a different bright color, and from the younger kids drawings of turkeys made from the outlines of their hands.  A cornucopia centerpiece surrounded by riotously colored, warty gourds.

My father, as much of a turkey fiend as the Dad in A Christmas Story, carefully carving the bird and happily munching on pieces as he went along.  Uncle Tony lecturing us that we were really missing something by not eating the heart and liver.  A heartfelt prayer for the year’s blessings and the food we were about to enjoy.  Gramma Webner announcing the turkey was too dry.

A tube of cranberry dressing, still bearing the corrugated impressions of the can from whence it came, lying on its side on a plate and sliced to form perfect wine-colored circles.  A huge bowl of Mom’s hand-mashed potatoes, doused liberally with her thick, homemade gravy.  A mincemeat pie.  Football throws outside on a crisp autumn afternoon to help stimulate the appetite for the feast to come, and sprawling on the couch watching football on TV, groaning at the amount of food consumed but still somehow finding room for a late-night turkey sandwich and a final piece of pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!