Turkey Wishbone – What Is the Turkey Wishbone Tradition?

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving surrounded by delicious food, family, and enough wine to face it. But family isn’t the only subject of contention when it comes to Turkey Day. As we now know, there is a lot we don’t know about the origins of the holiday, including whether it ever was in reality a turkey at the first party in 1662.

However, the part of Thanksgiving that has its roots in thousands of years of history is the tradition of breaking the turkey swing arm. It has a nice backstory and we dug deep to bring you a little history lesson on one of America’s favorite post-dinner Thanksgiving traditions. In addition, we also tell you how to find and remove the swing arm and the strategies you can use to beat your opponent.

swing arm of turkey

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What is the tradition of breaking a turkey swing arm?

The turkey swing arm tradition emerged thousands of years ago in Europe and made its way to the United States through what can only be described as an anthropological game of the telephone. This tradition crossed the Atlantic with pilgrims on the Mayflower, who took it from the Romans, who made it from an ancient Italian civilization called Etruscan. You see, the Etruscans loved their chickens, or so historians infer, to the point that they believed their favorite chicken had magical powers to predict the future. But the line between witchcraft and sustenance was quite thin for these early Italians, so they ate the chickens and kept the forcula, a V-shaped bone near the neck, for ritual activities. People took turns to stroke the bone and long for their deepest desires, hence the name “swinging bones”.

When the Romans crossed with the Etruscans about 200 years later, they adopted many of their traditions, the fork is one of them. However, with too few chickens and too many desires, supply and demand quickly became a problem. As a solution, the Romans made a slight modification to the tradition and made two people wish on the same bone and break it. Whoever got the bigger piece got their wish, which, as we all know by now, serves as the foundation for this Thanksgiving activity that Americans have always loved.

What are the rules for breaking a swing arm?

First, let’s discuss why the forcula, or swing arm, exists. They are essentially a bird’s collarbones that are attached to the wings on either side. It is slightly more elastic than other bones in the body which helps the bird fly properly. Here’s how to carve a turkey and find the swing arm:

Step 1

Place the raw turkey on the breast with the breast side facing up with the legs facing out and the hollow of the neck facing you.

Step 2

With your index finger, touch the inside of the neck cavity to locate the swing arm. It should look like a V-shaped bone.

Step 3

Use a kitchen knife to cut the muscle along the edges of the V shape. Insert your fingertip to slightly widen the gap making sure you don’t tear any of the muscles.

Step 4

Once both sides of the bone have detached from the muscle, move slightly to loosen the bone. Then gently pull from the center of the V shape and remove the bone.

Which side of the swing arm gets the wish?

Breaking the fork may sound simple but there’s actually a real science (well, maybe not science but strategy) to win in this turkey day tradition: first, pick the side with the thickest bone (if the your side of the bone is stronger, less likely to break in half as easily); so when you are preparing to break it, make sure you grab the bone higher for better leverage (this will ensure that you apply pressure where the two bones connect). Finally, remember that the best defense is a good offense. This means that he stands still while your competitor does everything possible to make his bone more susceptible to breaking.

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