The Symbolic Reason Pretzels Are Eaten During Lent Goes Back To The Middle Ages

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But why “pretzel?” The name stems from the Latin word “pretiola,” which means “little rewards.” Or, maybe not. Another theory of origin suggests the rewarding snack was originally named “bracellae,” Latin for “little arms.” While it doesn’t play into the name game, some people believe the three holes formed by the twisted dough symbolize the Holy Trinity. Regardless of its genesis, one curveball theory connects pretzels to the Vatican a century before the kindly monk began distributing them for good work.

By the 1400s, the tradition of the twisty bread had spread into Germany, where bracellae became bretzel, then pretzel. While Germans viewed the pretzel as a general symbol of longevity and prosperity, the Lenten connection carried over in the form of a traditional Good Friday dinner. Following a day of fasting, Germans sat down to a meal of pretzels with hard-boiled eggs tucked into the “arms” of the bread, a symbol of renewal in celebration of the Easter season.

A century later, the oft-cited connection between monasteries and pretzels came full circle when Austrian monks thwarted an attack by Ottoman Turks intent on taking Vienna. The monks, who were baking pretzels in the monastery basement, overheard the attacking soldiers tunneling their way into the city and alerted officials. To recognize their contribution to fending off the invasion, the Austrian emperor commissioned a coat of arms depicting two fierce lions holding a crowned pretzel.

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