This Is How to Win at Breaking the Turkey Wishbone

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, family members join in on the tradition of breaking the turkey wishbone. And like any other competition, there is an art to winning this turkey face off.

WishboneBlend Images/ShutterstockWhat are the holidays without baking pies, stuffing your belly with actual stuffing, getting into heated family discussions, and…breaking the wishbone in an attempt to make your dearest wish come true? When it comes to the infamous wishbone competition, winning your wish isn’t a matter of luck, it’s a matter of skill. (Here’s the full history on why we wish on wishbones.)

This tradition dates back to ancient times, with the English adopting it from the Romans who adopted it from the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. Etruscans believed birds were oracles and provided a gateway to the future, reports Mental Floss. After a chicken was killed, they would extract the wishbone, also known as the furcula, and leave it out in the sun to dry to preserves its powers. They would stroke the bone and make wishes on it, lending way to the tradition’s name. The Romans took it a step further and broke the wishbone to give more people a chance for their wishes to come true. (Interested in more quirky traditions? Here’s the history behind the famous presidential turkey pardon.)

As we know, only one person can break off the biggest piece and have their wish come true. In 2014, a couple of scientists from the University of Michigan conducted research on 3D model wishbones to discover the best strategies for winning. “My hope is that this shows everyone that science and technology can be used in every type of family rivalry and every type of family tradition,” Rachael Schmedlen, PhD, a biomedical engineering lecturer said in a Michigan Engineering YouTube video. Here’s how you can get a leg up on the competition:

  • Always start with a dry bone. If you don’t give the wishbone enough time to dry, it will bend rather than snap, and it’ll become a game of strength instead of skill. What makes the wishbone brittle enough to snap is when the stretching protein in bones called collagen weakens as the bone dries, according to Scientific American.

  • When it comes to picking a side of the bone, always go with the thickest. This way, there’s less stress on your side when the other person goes to pull.

  • Remain stationary and allow the other person to do all the pulling. The more they pull and the more their side of the bone moves, the more it will bend and eventually break due to the stress and points of weakness it creates.

  • Firmly grab the bone with your thumb and forefinger as close to the base of the “V” as possible.

If you follow all these rules, you should break off the bigger piece 99.9 percent of the time. As for your wish coming true? Science is still working on figuring that part out.

Hosting Turkey Day? You’ll definitely want to download our free Thanksgiving Guide! It’s full of recipes, fun facts, and everything else you need to make the day a success.

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Amari D. Pollard
Amari D. Pollard is a writer and audience development strategist. She is currently a Roy H. Park Fellow at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and previously worked as the Head of Audience Development at The Week. Her writing focuses on politics, culture, relationships, and health. In addition to Reader’s Digest she has been published at The Week, Bustle, PopSugar, Inside Lacrosse, and more. She has a B.A. in Communications from Le Moyne College.