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The Wishbone: From Ancient Ritual to Modern Symbolism

The wishbone is a popular good luck symbol in the Western world and is a favorite custom at Thanksgiving dinner tables. Today, it’s a popular design for jewelry and tattoos, and features in metaphors and idioms in the English language.

Here’s a close look at how the custom of breaking a wishbone originated and why it continues to be popular today.

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History of the Wishbone Symbol

Silver Wishbone Pendant Necklace
Silver Wishbone Pendant Necklace. Check price here.

The wishbone is a section of a bird’s skeleton, known as the furcula. It’s a forked bone in an important central location, offering the bird stability, strength and assistance with flight. Wishbones have also been found in some dinosaur skeletons.

The history of breaking a wishbone for good luck goes back to the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. They believed that birds were able to predict the future and used wishbones as magical objects that could divine the weather and predict a person’s fortune. The custom then spread to the Romans and from there to the English. The English took the custom with them to the New World, where it became a staple at Thanksgiving dinners. The bone was also called a ‘merrythought’.

How Do You Break a Wishbone?

How to break a wishbone

Wishbones today typically come from turkeys or chickens. The traditional way to prepare a wishbone for breaking involved cleaning the bone and leaving it aside to dry for three days for added luck. When dry, the bone is easier to break as it’s more brittle.

Once the bone is ready for the ritual, the two people wishing on the bone need to each select a side of the forked bone. The bone can be held by the little fingers or by the thumb and forefinger finger. The two then pull on each side of the bone until it breaks, while making a silent wish.

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The person who ends up with the longer piece of bone has the lucky break and their wish will come true. The other person has had a bad break, and their wish will not be granted. If the wishbone breaks perfectly in half, both wishes will come true.

Wishbone poem

Wishbone Symbolism

Today, the wishbone design is typically depicted in its unbroken form. This is not just more aesthetic, but also signifies potential and promise.

The wishbone in general is a good luck charm that symbolizes:

  • Hope for the future
  • Good fortune
  • Untapped potential
  • Being in control of one’s own luck
  • A new chapter or beginning

Wishbones are an ideal design to give as a gift to a friend or a loved one, with the symbolism suiting a variety of occasions.

  • Wishbone rings make stylish and functional wedding gifts, signifying a hope for the couple’s next chapter together.
  • As a Valentine’s day gift, a piece of jewelry featuring a wishbone can be symbolic of being lucky for each other. It can symbolize the concept of – You’re my lucky charm.  
  • A wishbone gift for a fresh graduate, a new job or a traveller, represents good luck, adventure and untapped potential. It can also be seen as symbolic of creating one’s own luck by the strength of one’s actions.

So entrenched is the wishbone in Western culture, that it’s even entered the English language. Here are some popular wishbone related metaphors and idioms:

  • A lucky break
  • A bad break
  • A clean break
  • Success depends on your backbone, not your wishbone

Wishbone in Jewelry and Fashion

wishbone jewelry
Wishbone Pendant by Jewel Fest Shop. See it here.

The wishbone is a popular design in jewelry. Its simple design allows for stylization, and suits a variety of jewelry styles.

Wishbone pendants are often worn with the edges pointing downwards for a more functional and aesthetic look. If you have a ring that’s too large to wear on your finger, or your work restricts you from wearing rings, a sufficiently large wishbone pendant can be used to hold your ring. As the superstition goes, you should make your wish as you put on your wishbone pendant. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the wishbone symbol.

Editor's Top Picks
Baydurcan Wish Fishbone Necklace with Message Card birthday Gift Card (Silver Fishbone)
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AFFY Wishbone Pendant Necklace in 14K Yellow Gold Over Sterling Silver
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Amazon Collection 18k Yellow Gold Plated Sterling Silver Wishbone Pendant Necklace, 18
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Last update was on: June 18, 2024 11:01 am

Wishbone rings are quite popular as wedding or fashion rings, also called chevron. They pair well with diamonds or gemstones, especially in eternity ring designs. Because of their v-shape, they can accommodate a diamond engagement ring, making space for the stone with the bands of both rings sitting flush against each other.

Other ways to wear the wishbone design includes in earrings and as charms. The design is also often used in tattoos. It can be adapted to be large and attention-grabbing, or small and discreet.

Wrapping Up

The wishbone remains a fun and cheerful symbol of hope and positivity. It’s an excellent design for jewelry and makes for a good luck gift for a variety of occasions.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.