The informant is a 20-year-old man who lives in California. When asked about tradition on holidays, he told the collector about the wishbone tradition that he and his family have.
Collector: Can you tell me some traditions that you and your family do on holidays?
Informant: Well, the only thing I can think of right now is the wishbone.
Collector: Ok tell me about that.
Informant: When you carve the turkey during Thanksgiving dinner, you take the wishbone… this specific v-shape chest bone out and put it in a cup to dry completely, which usually would be the case after a day or two. After it’s completely dried, two people get to pull each side of the bone and whoever gets the bigger piece gets to make a wish. I remember I wished for a lot of money one time when I was in middle school.
The wishbone tradition on Thanksgiving is a common practice in American households. The informant describes the specific tradition in his family that involves drying the bone and the idea of who has the right to make a wish. There are a lot of variations of this tradition: for instance, two people should wish at the same time and whoever gets the bigger piece will have their wish granted (see this article for reference). The wishbone tradition came from Etruscans hoping to gain divine power through the wishbone and Romans decided to crack the bones so everyone can have a piece (see this article for reference). It is interesting to see the European tradition of cracking the wishbone migrate across the Atlantic Ocean and blend into the American Holiday of Thanksgiving.
Background on Informant:
Currently a student, she grew up in an American household with heritage links to her Polish and Irish backgrounds. She has shared with me her many traditions and the folklore she has been exposed to through her experiences.
“Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays we have here in the States, and with that my family and I have our own traditions that have developed throughout the years.
Specifically we have this thing called the ‘Thanksgiving Wishbone,’ which obviously comes from the typical wishbone custom but we’ve added a Thanksgiving twist to it.
After someone finds the wishbone in the turkey, two people (usually my mom and me, or my dad and me) take one side each and then attempt to break it in half.
The person who gets the bigger half is blessed with good luck for the year and sometimes we do a variation where we make a wish and whoever ‘wins’ has their wish come true.
It’s very simplistic but it is a huge part of my Thanksgiving and it is something I look forward to every year.”
I knew before this interview about the wishbone tradition, but I loved how the person I interviewed had her own little family twist with it. I love how Thanksgiving has a standard set of ‘rules’ when celebrating but how everyone that I’ve ever talked to about Thanksgiving has developed their own little side traditions.
I also find it fascinating how universal the wishbone custom is and how it is practiced so frequently and has remained an integral part of a lot of peoples’ cultural background no matter where they are from. Overall, I find it interesting to see how this tradition has continued overtime and how even if people don’t understand or know its’ origins, it is still something people value.
Informant: After eating dinner my sister and I grabbed the wishbone from the counter. The rest of the family gave their permission and all gathered around the watch the game. My sister and I sat across from each other on the dinner table and held both ends of the bone, with our elbows level on the table. No one is allowed to be positioned in a higher ground or else it is unfair. So we waited for my dad to say ‘Go!’ and then we both pulled the bone in opposite directions. Unfortunately, my sister won the game and because her side of the bone was larger after it broke. So she got all the luck and was able to make a wish from winning the larger side of the bone.
Interviewer: How do you find the bone in the bird?
Informant: Well my dad loves this game and usually handles cleaning the meat off the chicken bones. So he always knows where to search for the wishbone. It looks like a V and is delicate! I think it’s in between the shoulders but really my dad knows.
Interviewer: When do you know to play the game?
Informant: Well the bone is easily breakable so you always have to be extra careful when handling it. So my dad always lets the kids play but loves to watch and make sure we are extra focused. So my sisters and I are always eager to play the game right after dinner but sometimes my dad makes us wait till the bone is dry and ready to be broken!
Background: The informant is 22 years old and home visiting her family of sisters and parents. The game is a family tradition when they are eating birds, bought, or hunted. The whole family participates in the game as observers or the second player. The informant recalls playing this game at a young age usually after dinner or once the bones have properly dried the next day. She learned this game from her father who insists on using the bone to make a wish, recounting his own memories playing with family and friends. The informant recalls this memory and continues this tradition because it is a fun way to bring friends and family together.
Context: This piece was performed at the dinner table between siblings after dinner. The whole family has gathered around the watch the game. After the game ended, I interviewed the informant and learned more about the tradition.
Thoughts: This is an interesting superstitious game played in the family setting. The family uses the bones from the meal they had just eaten. This is interesting because the luck comes from the food on the table. Whether the luck is real or not, the game brings camaraderie and light hearted fun to the family. It is deemed to be unlucky not to save the “Wish Bone” when eating a chicken or bird, and that this game is apart of the whole bird eating process as a whole. When returning home from living away from your family there is a need to play old childhood games and continue traditions.