Although often thought of as an American tradition, breaking or pulling the wishbone from a turkey was actually brought to the new world by the Pilgrims that came from England. The importance of the wishbone can be traced back to the Romans who ate fowl such as guinea fowl and chicken. Hens and cocks were thought to be oracles or fortune tellers. The Romans adopted this belief from the Etruscans who settled one of the earliest civilizations on the Italian peninsula around 800-900 BC. The Romans would have been responsible for bringing the superstition with them to the western world.
When the Etruscan’s killed a bird it’s collarbone would be laid out to dry in the sun. They would then pick up the bone and stroke it and make a wish. This is where the name wishbone came from and it seems that wishing on a bird’s clavicle was a very common practice for a few centuries. The wishbone or furcula is also called the Merrythought, a term that dates back to at least 1686 when the custom of two people taking hold of either side of the bone and pulling until it breaks was first recorded. And so was the beginning of pulling the wishbone.
Here are a few vintage postcards that feature turkeys and wishbones.
Page 1 - Pulling the Wishbone
Page 2 - Happy Thanksgiving
Page 3 - Thanksgiving Dinner
Page 4 - Thanksgiving Turkey
Page 5 - Thanksgiving Wishes
Page 6 - A Vintage Thanksgiving