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Nowadays people don't think of the common, everyday pretzel as an Easter season food. Nevertheless, for centuries the pretzel qualified as an acceptable food during the forty-day fast that precedes Easter (see also Lent). The pretzel dates back to ancient times. The earliest known image of a pretzel comes from a fifth-century manuscript housed in the Vatican.

Observant Christians in the Roman Empire considered pretzels a suitable Lenten food for two reasons. First, because pretzel dough contains only flour, salt, and water, these bread snacks fulfilled the strict requirements of the Lenten fast. Second, by virtue of their shape, they symbolized the proper activity of an observant Christian during Lent: prayer. In those days many Christians prayed by crossing their arms in front of them and placing the fingertips of each hand on the shoulders of the opposing arms. The bow-shaped pretzel, still common today, represents the crossed arms of a person in prayer. The Romans called these treats bracellae, meaning "little arms" in Latin. Later, the Germans transformed this word into brezel or prezel. English speakers in turn translated the German word as "pretzel." By the Middle Ages pretzels had become a popular Lenten food in many parts of Europe.

In past times Ash Wednesday witnessed the arrival of the pretzel vendor on the streets of Germany, Austria, and Poland. As an act of Lenten charity pretzels were sometimes distributed free to poorer folk. Central Europeans often washed down their pretzels with beer. The Poles enjoyed these crunchy snacks with a dish of beer soup. In Austria children sometimes dangled them from the ends of palm branches on Palm Sunday. Pretzels continued to be widely identified with Lent until the nineteenth century. As western Europeans began to discard the food restrictions once associated with Lent, pretzels lost their association with the season and gradually became a year-round snack food.

Further Reading

Hogan, Julie. Treasury of Easter Celebrations. Nashville, TN: Ideals Publications, 1999. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
References in periodicals archive ?
In the spirit of this joyous season, the world's beloved soft pretzel franchise wants to reward Santas everywhere with a delicious snack via its #Snack4Santa holiday campaign.
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Everyone deserves to enjoy flavorful soft pretzels and with the addition of our gluten-free pretzel, the soft pretzel can be a mainstay in everyone's kitchen.
23, 2011, will receive a free sweet stuffed, soft pretzel with the purchase of a Pretzel Sandwich Combo.
This strong increase in same-store sales is the result of two underlying forces: the ever-increasing desire for consumers to eat more healthy snacks as a part of a balanced diet and our efforts to position Wetzel's Pretzels as the leader of a new ultra-premium segment of the soft pretzel category," said Bill Phelps, company CEO and co-founder.
Pretzelmaker / Pretzel Time will once again be hosting National Pretzel Day Sunday, April 26, by giving away Original Soft Pretzels (limit one per customer).
ATLANTA, March 12 /PRNewswire/ -- On the heels of an announcement outlining the consolidation of Pretzelmaker and Pretzel Time, the soft pretzel franchise revealed that it will once again be hosting National Pretzel Day, Sunday, April 26, with free original soft pretzels from open to close at participating locations nationwide (limit one per customer).