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The soft pretzel has been an iconic snack found everywhere, from airports to movie theaters, restaurants, and ballparks. However, the pretzel may actually have roots in Lent. The website for the Catholic Education Resource Center says the earliest depiction and description of something resembling a pretzel dates back to the fifth century. That document is currently held in the Vatican’s archives.

The pretzel’s simple ingredients of yeast, salt, flour and water meant that it conformed to the strict fasts that were standard in the early church. Unlike the fasting rules of the modern era, which prohibits eating fowl and meat on Fridays, portions of the church permitted only one full meal per day and didn’t eat any animal products or meat for the entirety of Lent, according to the Catholic Education Resource Center.

The origins of the pretzel.

According to tradition, the need for a filling but Lent-compiling snack is partly how the pretzel came into existence. The website Pretzels.com says the oldest and most widely accepted story of the creation of early pretzels goes back to the start of the Middle Ages in 610 A.D. According to that legend, a monk in Northern Italy invented the first pretzels, calling them pretiola, or “little rewards,” for children who were obedient and learned their prayers, say Pretzels.com. The pretzel’s shape was intended to look like hands in prayer, and the three holes in the pretzel were representative of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For author and Catholic blogger Kendra Tierney, homemade pretzels are one way her family celebrates old traditions during the liturgical season. Tierney is the founder of Catholic All Year, a website that helps Catholics live out their faith. She told Fox News Digital that her family approaches Lent as a time to step back from the noise and distractions of our regular lives and spend more time in old-fashioned pursuits that help them feel connected to their Catholic roots and each other and making meals at home from scratch is one of their favorite ways to do that. Tierney added that baked soft pretzels are always a big hit. They’re also a conversation starter, a fun family activity, and a delicious addition to a simple soup dinner.

Baked pretzels around the world.

The accuracy of the pretzel’s origin story in a monastery is somewhat disputed, but what’s not in dispute is how pretzels have become symbolic of the Lent and Easter seasons throughout Europe. In Germany, in addition to eating pretzels during Lent, hard-boiled eggs and pretzels were hidden for children to find on Easter Sunday in what would become the precursor to the Easter egg hunt, according to the website for the Ivermere Bakery. In Luxembourg, a small European country bordering Belgium, Germany, and France, a Lenten tradition involving love and pretzels continues to this day. “Bretzelsonndeg” or “Pretzel Sunday” is observed every year on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

What is Laetare Sunday?

In the Catholic Church, the fourth Sunday of Lent is known as “Laetare Sunday” and is one of the two times during the year the celebrant of the Mass wears pink vestments. Laetare Sunday is regarded as somewhat of a reprieve from the penances of the Lenten season, and, for some lucky Luxembourgers, the fourth Sunday of Lent also comes with a tasty pretzel treat. According to the Luxembourg City website, “Bretzelsonndeg” is a “celebration of love.”

Traditionally, a man offers a pretzel to his sweetheart” as a token of love. If the woman feels the same, she’ll give him an egg on Easter. However, if she doesn’t, the man gets an empty basket, according to the Luxembourg City website. Still, this tradition comes with a twist. During leap years, like 2024, the women are in charge of giving out pretzels to men, and the men get a chance to give out an egg.

Most people think of pretzels as something to snack on while you’re walking around the mall or enjoying your favorite sports team. However, most probably don’t know that pretzels were initially created as a Lenten snack that many Catholic families still enjoy today, which brings the family together and allows them to step back from life’s distractions and celebrate the liturgical season.

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