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THE WISHBONE

Once the merrythought is dry, it is given to two people (usually children), who pull it apart until it cracks and breaks, each one making a wish while doing so. The person who gets the "long half" of the wishbone will have his or her wish "come true." If the wishbone breaks evenly, both parties get their wishes. In some families it is said that the wish will only come true if it is not revelaed to anyone. (The belief that a wish must be kept secret to ensure its fulfillment also occurs in "first star" and birthday candle wishing rituals).

In its intact form, the wishbone itself does not confer good luck, but it holds the promise of luck to the one who gets the longer half. Because of its association with conviviality and festive dinners, the wishbone has a long history of use in holiday cards. This postcard, dating from the postcard mania period of 1906-1918, is one of many in my collection that shows a merrythought with holly as a Christmas or New Year party amulet. The wishbone is found on numerous Good Luck postcards of the era.

In the 1930s, the wishbone was a common image on North American good luck coins and one could even buy little gold or silver wishbone charms; but by the 1990s it, like that other "dead animal part," the rabbit foot, had fallen out of favour with the makers of lucky amulets.

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