Late afternoon is not a good time for me to be shopping in the super market, as a developing hunger creates a desire to buy more food than I need. The other day I hurried through and tried hard not to over buy. But then I was waiting in the checkout line and discovered I was right next to the pretzels!! I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story.
So we are halfway through Lent and did you know that the pretzel has a deep spiritual meaning for Lent? It may have been the ancient Christian Lenten bread as far back as the fourth century. In the old Roman Empire, the faithful kept a very strict fast all through Lent: no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no cream and no meat. However, we really don’t know exactly when the pretzel originated and there are various legends about it. One is that an Italian monk, around 610, would bake strips of dough that
he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer. He would give these treats, which he
called “pretiolas” or “little rewards,” to children who had memorized their prayers. Unfortunately—and not surprisingly—there’s no documented evidence from the 600’s to confirm this story.
Whatever their origin, for Christians throughout the centuries, pretzels have been regarded as having religious significance for both their ingredients and shape. They were shaped in the form of crossed arms for the custom was to cross arms over the breast while praying. Pretzels were considered a sign of good luck and spiritual wholeness—possibly due to the three holes in the common pretzel shape, representing the Holy Trinity. Seen as a symbol of good luck, prosperity and spiritual fulfillment, pretzels were also
commonly distributed to the poor, as a way of providing them with both spiritual and literal sustenance.
The first pretzels were baked as a soft, squishy bread, like the soft pretzels of today. The popularity of
these twisty treats spread across Europe during the Middle Ages. German and Swiss immigrants
introduced the pretzel to North America in the 19th century. Hard pretzels became popular in this
country as a snack food since they were more durable than soft pretzels. Have you ever checked out the pretzel section in the grocery store to see how many different types there are today?
Over time, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. In fact, pretzels were often hunted on Easter morning just like many children hunt eggs today. Thus the pretzel is the most appropriate food symbol in Lent. Many types still show the form of arms crossed in prayer, reminding us that Lent is a time of prayer. It consists only of water and flour, thus proclaiming Lent as a time of simplicity. (Though you should see the list of ingredients on the kind I bought!!)
Are you using this time of Lent to grow closer to God? Next time you munch on a pretzel let it remind you of your commitment to Jesus Christ, of our life together as a Christian community, and of the opportunity still ahead to share in our special worship services during Holy Week —-Maundy Thursday and Good Friday—- so very important in helping us prepare for our celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So glad to be sharing the Lenten Journey with you, in Christ,