What Does the Wishbone Symbolize? Unraveling the Meaning Behind a Popular Tradition

The wishbone. The symbol that is often found as a decoration or a good luck charm at Thanksgiving dinner. But do you know what it really symbolizes? This small Y-shaped bone may seem insignificant, but it carries a lot of meaning. For the ancient Romans and Greeks, the wishbone was believed to have magical properties that could grant wishes.

The tradition of breaking the wishbone dates back to the early 17th century, where it was believed that chickens possessed a divine power. The lucky person who ended up with the larger piece of the broken wishbone was said to have their wish granted. However, wishbones have since been replaced with those made of resin or plastic to avoid waste and animal cruelty.

Even with the changes in today’s society, the wishbone still holds a special meaning. It symbolizes hope and the power of wishes. Whether these wishes come true or not, it can be comforting to have something to believe in. So this Thanksgiving, when you stumble upon a wishbone, make a wish and remember the power that it harnesses.

History and Origin of the Wishbone Symbol

The tradition of breaking a wishbone to make a wish has been around for centuries. The custom is said to have originated with the ancient Etruscans, who believed that fowl had magical powers. They would perform a religious ritual in which they would break the chicken’s collarbone or furcula and make a wish on the broken piece. The Romans, who conquered the Etruscans, adopted this tradition and brought it to other parts of Europe.

The tradition continued to evolve, and by the 17th century, it had become a popular custom in England, where it was known as “merrythought.” The name was derived from the idea that whoever got a bigger piece of the bone would have a merry thought, or wish, come true. It was during this time that the furcula became known as the wishbone. It was also during this time that people began to use turkey wishbones instead of chicken wishbones, as they were larger and easier to handle.

Interesting Facts about the Wishbone Symbol

  • Due to its perceived magical powers, the furcula was often carried as a good luck charm and was even worn as a talisman around the neck.
  • The custom of breaking the wishbone in two is still practiced today, especially during Thanksgiving dinner in the United States.
  • In some cultures, the wishbone is used to predict the weather. If the bone is white, it means that there will be fair weather, and if it is dark, there will be foul weather.

Symbolic Meaning of the Wishbone

For many people, the wishbone symbolizes luck, hope, and the power of positive thinking. Breaking the wishbone in two and making a wish is seen as a way to manifest one’s desires and bring good fortune into one’s life. It is also a reminder that sometimes, the things we wish for are within our grasp, but we may need to work hard to make them a reality.

The Scientific Explanation of the Wishbone

The wishbone, or furcula, is a unique feature found only in birds. It is formed by the fusion of the bird’s two clavicles, and it serves as a brace to help support the wings during flight. When the bird dies, the furcula dries out, becoming hard and brittle. This makes it an ideal material for the custom of breaking it in two to make a wish.

Bird TypeWishbone Shape
TurkeyY-shaped or wishbone-shaped

Interestingly, the wishbone is also an important bone for paleontologists, who use it to study the evolutionary history of birds. By comparing the wishbones of different bird species, scientists can learn more about how birds have evolved over time.

Superstitions associated with the wishbone

The wishbone has been an object of superstition for centuries, and various beliefs and myths are associated with it. Out of all of them, here are some of the most prevalent superstitions surrounding the wishbone.

Superstitions associated with the wishbone: The Number 2

  • Two people pull a wishbone to predict who will get their wish granted.
  • If the wishbone breaks into two equal pieces, it is considered a good omen, believed to bring luck and prosperity to both parties.
  • If one piece is larger than the other, the person holding the bigger piece will have their wish granted.

The number 2 is significant in these superstitions since there are two people involved in breaking the wishbone. Additionally, the equal break of the wishbone into two pieces represents the idea of balance and harmony.

Use of Wishbones in Divination and Fortune-Telling

In addition to its role in Thanksgiving traditions, the wishbone has a long history as a tool for divination and fortune-telling, particularly in European cultures.

One common practice involves two people each taking one end of the wishbone, making a wish, and then pulling until the bone snaps. It is said that the person with the larger piece of bone will have their wish granted.

Another tradition involves drying out a wishbone and then rubbing it with gold or silver powder. The wishbone is then broken into three pieces, representing past, present, and future. The person receiving the reading chooses a piece and its corresponding meaning is interpreted by the fortune-teller.

Wishbone Divination and Fortune-Telling Techniques

  • Two-person pulling: Participants make a wish and pull the wishbone until it snaps. The person with the larger piece is said to have their wish granted.
  • Gold or silver rubbing: The wishbone is dried and rubbed with gold or silver powder. It is then broken into three pieces to represent past, present, and future. The recipient chooses a piece, and the fortune-teller provides an interpretation.
  • Wishbone charm: A dried wishbone is used as a charm or amulet to attract good luck and fortune.

The Number Three and Wishbone Divination

In wishbone divination, the number three is a significant factor. Breaking the bone into three pieces represents the past, present, and future. Additionally, there are three possible outcomes for the wishbone pulling method: the larger piece grants the wish of one person, the larger piece brings bad luck, or the bone snaps evenly and no outcome is determined. Some believe that the three possibilities are representative of the trinity in Christian theology or the three stages of human life: birth, life, and death.

FirstFirst stage of life, birth or childhood
SecondSecond stage of life, adult or middle age
ThirdThird stage of life, old age or death

These interpretations and beliefs vary greatly, but they all share the common theme of using the wishbone as a tool for divination and fortune-telling.

Wishbones in literature, art, and popular culture

Wishbones have been a popular symbol in various forms of art, literature, and popular culture throughout history. The following are some of the popular references to the wishbone symbol in different forms of media:

  • Literature: The wishbone is often referred to in various forms of literature as a symbol of luck or hope. In “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, Pip breaks a wishbone with Estella, which leads to their eventual romantic relationship. This small detail adds a layer of symbolism to the story and helps to foreshadow the connection between the two characters.
  • Art: The wishbone has also been a popular subject of various art mediums throughout history. In ancient Chinese culture, wishbones were included in their art as an important symbol of good luck and fortune. Contemporary artist Damien Hirst created a sculpture called “The Acquired Inability to Escape” which features a massive, dangling wishbone. The symbolism and power of the wishbone are emphasized through the larger-than-life sculpture.
  • Popular Culture: The wishbone has appeared in various forms of popular culture, from television shows to music videos. In the popular show “Friends,” the characters compete over who gets to break the turkey wishbone, emphasizing the cultural significance of the symbol. The band One Direction also released a song called “Wishbone,” which features lyrics about hoping for a healthy romantic relationship.

The Number 4: A Lucky Number for the Wishbone Symbol

When it comes to the wishbone symbol, the number 4 is often associated with good luck and fortune. This is because the wishbone itself is formed by the fusion of two clavicles, creating four distinct parts. Each person who takes part in breaking the wishbone is left with two pieces, signifying the importance of sharing and collaboration towards good luck. Additionally, some cultures believe that the number 4 represents stability, determination, and hard work – all qualities that are associated with achieving good luck and prosperity.

Why the number 4 is significant for the wishbone symbol:
There are 4 distinct parts in the wishbone symbol
Each person gets 2 pieces, totaling 4 pieces overall
The number 4 is associated with stability and hard work

Overall, the wishbone symbol has been a popular and important representation of good luck and hope in various forms of media throughout history. Its powerful symbolism and cultural significance continue to be celebrated and enjoyed by people all over the world.

Different types of birds whose bones are used as wishbones

The tradition of breaking the wishbone dates back to the Etruscans in Italy, who believed that birds were oracles. When a bird was cooked, it was believed that the divinity within the bird’s bones had the power to grant wishes. The tradition spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to America, where it became a popular Thanksgiving tradition.

  • Chicken – The most common wishbone is from a chicken. It is easy to find and is considered the best bone for breaking because it is thin and brittle.
  • Turkey – The turkey wishbone is larger and stronger than a chicken’s wishbone, making it more difficult to break. It is also believed to be more powerful and grant bigger wishes.
  • Duck – The duck wishbone is shorter and wider than a chicken’s wishbone. It is also thicker, making it more difficult to break.

Other birds whose bones can be used as a wishbone include goose and pheasant. However, these birds are not as common and their wishbones are harder to find.

It is important to note that the tradition of breaking the wishbone is not exclusive to these birds. In some cultures, the wishbone of a fish or the rib bone of a pig or cow may also be used.

BirdBone SizeDifficulty to Break
DuckShort and WideMore Difficult

Regardless of the type of bird, the tradition of breaking the wishbone remains a popular game of luck and wishes among family and friends.

Techniques for Breaking the Wishbone to Make a Wish

The tradition of breaking the wishbone dates back to the ancient Etruscans, who believed that the bone held magical powers that could grant wishes. Today, it remains a popular ritual during Thanksgiving dinner, where two people grab onto opposite ends of the bone and pull until it breaks. The person with the larger piece is said to have their wish come true. Here are some techniques to increase your chances of getting the bigger piece:

  • Let it dry – The bone should be allowed to dry out for a few days before attempting to break it. This will make it more brittle and easier to snap.
  • Find the “V” – Look for the “V” shape in the wishbone and target that area. It tends to be weaker and easier to break.
  • Use your pinky – Place your pinky at the bottom of the “V” and use it as a guide to pull down on your side of the bone. This will give you more control and leverage.

For those who want to take it a step further, there are even wishbone breaking competitions held around the world. These events involve larger than average bones and competitors who have trained for months to perfect their technique.

If you’re feeling competitive or just want to have some fun with family and friends, try incorporating some of these wishbone breaking techniques at your next Thanksgiving dinner.

Wishbone Breaking CompetitionLocationDate
World Championship Wishbone Breaking ContestPetaluma, California, USANovember
Wishbone ContestYakima, Washington, USAThanksgiving Day
World famous “Cocktail Stick and Wishbone Competition”Kilham, East Yorkshire, EnglandAugust

These competitions are a fun way to celebrate the tradition of breaking the wishbone and to test your skills against others. Whether you win or lose, the important thing is to make a wish and hope for the best.

Traditional Thanksgiving custom of breaking the wishbone

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, you’re probably familiar with the tradition of breaking the wishbone. Every year after the turkey has been carved, two people grab onto opposite ends of the wishbone and pull until it snaps. The person who ends up with the longer piece of the bone gets to make a wish.

What does the wishbone symbolize?

  • The wishbone is the forked bone that lies between the turkey’s neck and breast. It’s an ancient symbol for good luck and was used for divination in cultures across the globe. In the Middles Ages, people believed that chickens and other birds had oracular powers, and the wishbone was one of the many bones used for fortune-telling.
  • In the 19th century, the tradition of breaking the wishbone at Thanksgiving became popular in America. It was thought that the person who got the larger piece of the bone would have their wish granted.
  • Today, the wishbone is a fun and lighthearted tradition that many families still enjoy. It’s a reminder of the symbolic importance of gratitude and good fortune during the holiday season.

The number 7

In some cultures, the wishbone is associated with the number 7. This may be due to the fact that wishbones often fork into two branches, which can be seen as a representation of the number 7. In numerology, the number 7 is often associated with luck, spirituality, and intuition.

For example, in Japanese culture, the number 7 is considered to be very lucky. The Tanabata festival, which is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, involves writing wishes on strips of paper and tying them to branches of bamboo.

In Christianity, the number 7 is associated with the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis. In the Bible, 7 is also seen as a symbol of completeness and perfection.

The Wishbone Breakdown

So, what exactly happens when you break a wishbone? The wishbone is made up of two halves of a forked bone, each with its own name. The two halves are the “humerus” and the “ulna.” When the wishbone is dried out, it becomes brittle and easy to break.

The larger, curved end of the wishboneThe smaller, straighter end of the wishbone
Has a smooth surfaceHas a slightly rough surface
Said to represent the presentSaid to represent the future

Whichever person ends up with the larger piece of the wishbone is said to be the one who will have their wish granted. This may sound like a silly superstition, but it’s a fun and harmless tradition that has been passed down through generations.

So, next Thanksgiving, when you’re enjoying your turkey dinner with friends and family, don’t forget to make a wish when you break the wishbone!

Scientific explanation of why wishbones break and how they regenerate

Have you ever wondered why wishbones break so easily? The answer lies in their structure. Wishbones are thin, fragile bones found in birds that help them fly. They are made up of trabecular bone, which is spongy and porous, allowing for flexibility and lightness. However, this also means they are more prone to breaking than other bones. When two people pull on either end of the wishbone, the pressure causes small cracks in the bone, which eventually lead to a break.

  • When wishbones break, they have the unique ability to heal themselves. Unlike other bones, which require a cast or brace to heal properly, wishbones can regenerate on their own. The bone tissue around the break site begins to grow, forming a connective bridge between the two ends of the bone. Over time, this bridge becomes more solid and dense, eventually forming a new piece of bone that completes the wishbone once again.
  • The ability of wishbones to regenerate is due to the bone’s unique composition. Trabecular bone has a high concentration of stem cells, which have the ability to differentiate and form new tissue. Additionally, the bone tissue around the break site releases growth factors and cytokines, which stimulate cell growth and help the bone heal.
  • Interestingly, the wishbone’s ability to regenerate was discovered by accident in the early 1900s. A scientist studying bone regeneration in chickens noticed that their wishbones were able to heal themselves, leading to further research and understanding of this unique bone.

To further understand the structure of wishbones, scientists have used imaging techniques such as micro-CT scanning. This allows them to see the internal structure of the bone and study how it responds to stress and pressure. Researchers have found that the structure of the wishbone is intricately designed to withstand the stresses of flight, but also has the ability to break and regenerate when necessary.

Structure of a WishboneFunction
Spongy and porous trabecular boneMakes the bone lightweight and flexible for flight
Y-shaped structureAllows for attachment of flight muscles and stabilizes the shoulder joint
High concentration of stem cellsAllows for regeneration and healing of the bone

In summary, wishbones have a unique structure that allows them to break easily under pressure but also regenerate and heal themselves. The bone’s composition of trabecular bone and stem cells, along with growth factors and cytokines, enable it to self-repair and maintain its function for flight. This fascinating ability has led to further research in bone regeneration and can serve as a lesson in resilience and adaptability.

Commercial and novelty products featuring wishbones

The wishbone has become a popular symbol in various commercial and novelty products. From kitchenware to jewelry, this object has been replicated and used in unique ways. Here are some examples:

  • Wishbone necklace: A popular jewelry item, wishbone necklaces are often worn as a symbol of luck and hope.
  • Wishbone earrings: Similar to the necklace, these earrings feature a wishbone design and are often gifted as a token of good luck.
  • Wishbone kitchen utensils: Wishbone-shaped utensils, such as measuring spoons and turkey lifters, have become a popular option in the kitchen.

In addition to these products, the wishbone can also be found in various commercial logos and advertisements. For example, the popular clothing brand, Free People, features a wishbone in its logo, and the NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has a logo that includes a wishbone shape.

But what does the wishbone symbolize in these products? Ultimately, it represents the idea of “making a wish” and the hope for good luck. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry or a kitchen utensil, these products serve as a reminder to stay positive and hopeful.

However, it’s important to note that the wishbone is not just a commercial symbol. It has a long and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. To truly appreciate the meaning behind the wishbone, it’s important to explore its origins and cultural significance.

Wishbones as a symbol of competition or rivalry

Wishbones are often associated with competition or rivalry among individuals. The tradition of two people pulling on opposite ends of a turkey wishbone to see who gets the larger piece dates back to the Romans, who believed the winner of the tug of war would have their wish granted. In modern times, wishbone competitions are often seen in sports teams or corporate settings, where teams compete against each other to win a prize or recognition.

  • In sports teams, wishbones are used as lucky charms before a game or competition. Athletes often hold onto wishbones or wear them as pendants to bring them good luck and help them win against their opponents.
  • In corporate settings, wishbones can be used as a motivational tool. Employers may offer a wishbone competition to boost team morale and encourage employees to work harder to achieve a goal or win a prize.
  • Wishbones can also create a sense of rivalry between friends or family members. Pulling the wishbone is often seen as a fun activity during Thanksgiving dinner, with family members competing against each other to see who wins. This type of friendly competition can create a sense of camaraderie among family members and adds to the festive atmosphere of the holiday.

Overall, wishbones can symbolize competition or rivalry in various settings, whether it be in sports teams, corporate settings, or family gatherings. The act of pulling on opposite ends of a wishbone to see who gets the larger piece can create a sense of excitement and anticipation, which adds to the enjoyment of the activity.

Here’s a table showing the breakdown of winning the wishbone tug-of-war:

Breaking the smaller pieceYou lose and your wish does not come true
Breaking the larger pieceYou win and your wish comes true

Remember, it’s all in good fun and the act of sharing the wishbone with loved ones is what really matters. Happy competing!

What does the wishbone symbolize FAQs

Q: What does the wishbone symbolize?
A: The wishbone is a symbol of good luck, hope, and wishes, dating back to ancient times.

Q: Where does the tradition of the wishbone come from?
A: The wishbone tradition dates back to the ancient Etruscan civilization, and later became popular during the Middle Ages.

Q: How is a turkey wishbone used in modern times?
A: In modern times, people often make a wish and pull the wishbone apart with another person, who also makes a wish. The person with the larger piece of the bone is said to have their wish granted.

Q: Can any bone be used as a wishbone?
A: No, only the wishbone of certain birds, such as turkeys and chickens, are suitable because they are forked in shape.

Q: What cultures use the wishbone tradition?
A: The wishbone tradition is popular in many cultures including European, American, and Middle Eastern.

Q: Is the wishbone considered a religious symbol?
A: No, the wishbone is not considered a religious symbol.

Q: Can the wishbone be used for anything other than wishes?
A: Some people use the wishbone as a divination tool to determine the gender of an unborn baby.


Now that you know what the wishbone symbolizes and where it comes from, you can enjoy this fun and lucky tradition with family and friends during holiday meals. Make a wish and pull the bone apart with someone else to see who will have their wish granted. Thanks for reading and visit again soon for more interesting facts and insights!