I’m requisitioning one audacious wishbone for you this new year. May a good break give you all the fortune you deserve for 2022. I remember breaking wishbones, mainly in chickens, with my brother as a child, but I haven’t done this in years. My COVID angst led me to purchase a whole roasted chicken before Christmas and, after snarfing up every scrap of meat, I found the wishbone daring me to tear it out.
Ever curious, I turned to the internet and found more than I really wanted to know. The wishbone tradition originated with the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization that peaked in the Sixth century BCE. The culture practiced bird divination.
(Huh? Yes, I had to look up divination. It is “the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers.”)
Basically, they used chickens like we use the Ouija Board. The curious asked questions and watched as the poultry pecked at letters on the ground, spelling out answers. But, alas, the chickens were killed. (Everyone needs to eat.) The fercula (aka wishbone) was saved and dried. Then, it was left on the ground so others could touch it, sucking up the vibes of the clairvoyant chicken and making a wish.
The Romans picked up the custom but added two people pulling it apart, the person with the larger piece getting to make a wish.
The ritual then moved to England with the Romans. The first recorded mention of it was in 1455. A goose fercula called merrythought was used to divine the weather on St. Martin’s Day, a November harvest celebration. The tradition then moved across the Atlantic with the English colonists and was part of the first Thanksgiving celebration. By 1842, the Baltimore newspaper called the merrythought a wish-bone and mentioned the turkey bone.
The wishbone is associated with many things such as:
- Restaurant names,
- University of Texas offensive football formation,
- A youtube channel where Fortnite creative maps and tutorials are housed,
- A children’s TV program on PBS,
- Salad dressing, and
- An app and website to compare anything; make polls and have others vote.
There’s even a Wishbone Day (May 6th) supporting people affected by Osteogenesis Imperfecta (genetic brittle bone disease).
I won’t be breaking my wishbone with anyone else this year. It will rest next to my cow tooth talisman on my desk. That way I can stare at it and rub it vigorously several times a day. After all, I need all the manna I can get while huddling in my she-shed office, protecting myself from the showers of omicron droplets spreading worldwide.