Food and good-luck traditions have anchored family holiday rituals for generations: hiding a penny in the pudding at Christmas; eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day. And of course, breaking the wishbone (or "furcula" between the two clavicles) of the roast turkey a few days after Thanksgiving.
As with most customs, stories vary about how the rather weird wishbone business got started. According to Matt Soniak at Mental Floss, it started with the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. The Etruscans used fowls -- specifically, chickens -- in many different ceremonies, and had a ritual of alectryomancy, or "rooster divination." According to "Luck, The Essential Guide" by Deborah Aaronson and Kevin Kwan, the Romans inherited this tradition from their Etruscan forebears and introduced the luck-divining wishbone practice when they conquered England.
Then as now, the method was: Remove the bone; clean thoroughly; allow to dry for a few days; then each friend grasps and pulls one side of the bone. The person holding the longer section gets the good luck.
In "Gobble! The Complete Book of Thanksgiving Words," children's author Linda Graham-Barber explains that the Pilgrims brought the custom to Cape Cod. Eventually, the expression "get a lucky break" joined the American luck lexicon.
Some attribute the wishbone's luck to its horseshoe-like shape. Some draw a rickety relationship to a rooster crowing just before sunrise, hence foretelling the future, thus the hen or rooster's wishbone is lucky.
I admit to being a complete scoffer on the subject of lucky charms and superstitions. Growing up, my family would dry a wishbone, paint it gold and hang it on the Christmas tree. Now I'm an adult and my family enjoys vegetarian Thanksgivings. But I am all about beloved, wholesome family rituals where everyone has fun and no one gets hurt. So in that spirit, I looked for an alternate approach to this tradition and can happily recommend an unexpected solution.
The folks at Lucky Break Wishbone offer realistic, breakable synthetic wishbones. Whether you want a fowl-free feast, or really just want a novel way for everyone to share in the fun, Lucky Break Wishbones are a great option. They're sold on their website, as well as in some Whole Foods and Party City locations.
Covered by the Food Network, Real Simple magazine and various newspapers and magazines, the idea is more than catching on. Company President Ken Ahroni says: "With Lucky Break Wishbones, there is no more fighting over the wishbone and no more waiting for it to dry on the windowsill. Now everybody can take a crack at making their wishes come true."
No matter the exact origin story of the wishbone, one thing's for sure: These days, people can still have the fun without the fowl.