Ah, the holidays are approaching. That means family, food, and… making wishes on dead animal bones. Wait, what? Why are we doing that? Turns out, this tradition dates all the way back to the Etruscan civilization around 300BC.
The Etruscans lived on the Italian Peninsula, and they believed that fowl had the secret gift of fortune telling. This was for a couple reasons: 1. when a man wanted an egg, he had to wait for the hen to squawk and announce it was coming; and 2. the rooster announced the new day by crowing at dawn. This belief led to the “hen oracles.” If someone wanted an important question answered by these oracles, they would draw a large circle divided into 20 parts (one part for each letter of the Etruscan alphabet), place food in each section, and record the order in which the hen pecked. The letters picked could represent something like the first letter of your future wife’s name, for example.
After writing her message, the hen was sacrificed. The collarbone, considered sacred, was hung out for days in the sun to dry. Then, villagers were allowed to touch the bone while making a wish. Voila: the wishbone!
So, how did this trickle down to our current tradition? Well, when the Romans conquered the countryside, they began taking on many of the traditions of people such as the Etruscans. Only instead of just touching the wishbone to make a wish, they would fight over them, and, you can see where this is going, they would break them. The idea of the wishbone then migrated to England, where eventually the pilgrims brought it to the New World. Only when the pilgrims got here, they realized Plymouth Rock was surrounded by wild turkeys, so the tradition was transferred from chickens to turkeys.
In the 1930s, the wishbone was so popular as a sign of good luck that it could be found in artwork or inscribed on gold coins. One could even buy little wishbone charms. It is also said that the phrases “I need a lucky break” and “I never get a break” are derived from this tradition.
And there you go. Just droppin’ a little knowledge on you this holiday season.