For early Christians, it was customary to abstain from meat, milk, butter, eggs, cream, and cheese during Lent. Fasting was common; Lenten worshipers typically consumed one meal during the day, with small snacks permitted as necessary. Due to these restrictions, observers of Lent needed a snack that contained none of the prohibited ingredients. And so came the pretzel.
Legend has it that pretzels were invented by a European monk in the 7th century CE. As the story goes, the monk was preparing a special unleavened bread recipe for Lent, using only the simple ingredients of flour, water, and salt. He took the leftover scraps of dough and formed them into the shape of arms folded across one's chest, which was the posture of prayer at the time. Some believe that the monk gave these snacks, called "pretiolae" (meaning "little rewards" in Latin), to children as a treat for reciting their prayers. Others believe that the snacks were called "bracellae" (meaning "little arms" in Latin), named for the symbolism of arms folded in prayer. In this version of the etymology of the word "pretzel," the name "bracellae" became "bretzel" when translated into German, which became the English word "pretzel."
From their inception, pretzels have been connected with the Christian season of Lent. Enjoy a pretzel this Lent, a tasty reminder of prayer in a prayerful church season. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to make your own Lenten pretzels.