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.