Breaking the Turkey Wishbone: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Discover the real meaning behind this Turkey Day custom.

Photo by Danny Kim

Curious where the wishbone-cracking custom came from? It all started with the ancient Romans (of course), who pulled apart chicken clavicles hoping for good fortune. The practice made it to England in the 16th century, where it was referred to as “merrythought.” In the New World, Pilgrims played tug-of-war with the bones of the more plentiful wild turkey, explains Kathleen Wall, a Colonial culinarian at the Plimoth Plantation museum, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The term wishbone didn’t emerge until the mid-1800s, around the time President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. What hasn’t changed is the rules: Each person grabs an end and gives a yank. If you get the bigger piece, your wish will be granted—maybe even in a snap.