Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pretzels And Lent

I like soft, cinnamon-sugar pretzels. But, I never knew pretzels' history is connected to Lent. Stan Dyer writes:

Made from just flour and water, (salt is OK), they were the perfect Lenten food. Even the easily recognizable and tradition “twist” has its roots in religion. The folded twist is meant to resemble arms crossed in prayer. At one time, people crossed their arms across their chests in pretzel fashion when praying instead of simply putting their two hands together. In fact, in Latin, the word for these braids of bread was “bracellae”, or “little arms”. The word was later corrupted in German to “bretzel”, and, once the voicing was lost from the bilabial stop, it became “pretzel”. Many people following Catholic Law would only eat one meal a day during Lent, but would ease the in between time by snacking on pretzels.

So, I Googled the words "pretzel" and "lent" after reading Dyer's article. I was a bit surprised to learn of the connection between Lent and pretzels.

Fr. William Saunders wrote in the Catholic Education Resource Center:

According to pretzel maker Snyder’s of Hanover, a young monk in the early 600s in Italy was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then popular prayer position of folding one’s arms over each other on the chest. The bread was then baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels one can find today. (To be fair, some traditions date the story to even the 300s.)

Because these breads were shaped into the form of crossed arms, they were called bracellae, the Latin word for "little arms." From this word, the Germans derived the word bretzel which has since mutated to the familiar word pretzel.

Another possibility for the origins of the word pretzel is that the young monk gave these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word pretiola means "little reward," from which pretzel could also be reasonably derived.

So, this Lent you may enjoy a pretzel and appreciate the history associated with it. I must wait until Easter to enjoy any pastry or candy. I gave those up for Lent. So far, I'm doing well.

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