Editor's Column: Wishboning you a happy Thanksgiving

One of the special parts of Thanksgiving dinner is the wishbone tradition, where the two-bladed, skinny bone is pulled from beneath the white meat and saved for future wishes.

My first memory of a wishbone is related to being forced to wait, which is never easy for a kid. Mom would hold up the freshly-plucked bone and say “not yet, it’s not ready,” or something to that effect. A fresh wishbone will bend, not break, so she’d place the bone on the kitchen windowsill to dry and the kids would wait anxiously for it to be dry enough to yank on.

Usually the excitement of the impending Christmas holiday would make us forget about the bone but eventually, usually around the Fourth of July, somebody would find the dried up wishbone on the window sill. One kid would yank on one half, another on the other, and the winner — the one with the longest segment of bone — would get to make a wish. As I recall, none of these wishes made over a bird bone ever came true.

We’ve grown so accustomed to this ceremony that we probably don’t realize how unsettling it must be to small children. The first thing they probably learned to wish on was a star, thanks to the Disney Corp., whose songwriters never bothered to come up with a “when I wish upon a bone” ditty. Nor is there a bone-related rhyme to compete with “star light, star bright..” Maybe we can come up with one: “Bone fresh, bone dry, first bone I’ve yanked just right, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” Nah, it just doesn’t sound right.

There’s something about a bone that doesn’t seem innately lucky, like a twinkling star or even a rare four-leaf clover. The bird it belongs to definitely wasn’t lucky, otherwise it wouldn’t be giving up its wishbone for Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, we think nothing of ripping a bone from a dead, cooked turkey and telling our kids that it’s lucky, a tradition which the never-dependable Internet says can be traced to the British Isles, where a wishbone is sometimes called a “merrythought.” Merrythought or not, my kids never really bought it, and yanked on the wishbone only reluctantly, to humor the old man. They always preferred wishing on stars.

This year my eldest daughter is cooking her first turkey, so I’ll be watching closely to make sure this revolting wishbone tradition is passed on to yet another household. My only wish that come the Fourth of July, she has a dried bone sitting on her windowsill.

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