Pretzels come in many flavors, shapes, and sizes — not unlike us. These treats are great for cheese or other dips or just by themselves. But have you stopped to consider they actually have a historical place in Lent?
If you take a moment to look at the typical twist pretzel, you can see that it is a model of the common prayer position from the early 600s of folding your arms over each other on your chest and putting your hands on your shoulders.
Pretzels were developed as an option to satisfy abstinence and fasting laws of the time. Eggs, fat, and milk were forbidden during Lent. So, the remaining ingredients that one could use included water, flour, and salt. A young monk baked the first pretzel — making a Lenten bread of water, flour, and salt, forming the dough into the prayer position of the day and baking it as soft bread. These first pretzels would have been much like the soft pretzels we have today.
Greg Dues, in his book “Catholic Customs and Traditions,” explains more of the pretzel history:
“These little breads were shaped in the form of arms crossed in prayer and were called bracellae (Latin, ‘little arms’). Among the Germans the word became ‘bretzel’. These pretzels were a common Lenten food throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, and became an all year round snack, in its original shape only in the last (19th) century.”