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Pretzels are a popular snack year-round today, but they first became popular as a Lenten food for Christians in the seventh century. The word Pretzel is derived from a German word that means “little arms.” The twisted shape of pretzels is meant to resemble two arms crossed in prayer. Making Lent pretzels is a way to remember that Lent is a season of prayer.

Baking Lent pretzels is also an opportunity to share the true meaning behind a pretzel’s twist with children. Then every time they eat a pretzel, they can be reminded of the importance of prayer.

How pretzels became a Lent tradition

Some traditions say that the earliest pretzels were rewards monks gave to their students for reciting their prayers correctly. But they ultimately became popular because of their simple ingredient list. The first pretzels were made with just flour, salt, and water. 

Christians in the seventh century followed strict rules about what they could eat during the season of Lent. Meat, dairy, fats, and eggs were all off-limits from Ash Wednesday through Easter. Pretzels could be made with inexpensive ingredients that followed the Lent fasting practices of the time. This made them popular.

It was customary to give pretzels to townspeople who were poor on certain days of Lent.

Making Lent pretzels at home as a reminder to pray

Consider making pretzels with your family or friends during Lent. As you make the pretzels, talk about what the shape of the pretzel symbolizes: that Lent is a time of prayer. Think together about how you can honor the practice of prayer. Before you eat your pretzels, say a prayer. Thank God for the food on your table and request God’s care for those who are hurting or hungry. 

Just as Christians did in the Middle Ages, you might consider giving some of the pretzels away as gifts.

Lent pretzel prayer

Dear God, we ask you to bless these pretzels which we are about to eat. Each time we eat them may we be reminded that this is the season of Lent, a time of prayer. Help us to remember to pray for those who need our prayers each day. Keep your loving arms around us, O God, to protect us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Baked Soft Pretzel Recipe

Sources: This recipe is adapted from homemade pretzel recipes by Alton Brown and Tasty.  

Soft pretzels

Ingredients

1 ½ cups hot water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
4 ½ cups flour (22 ounces)
10 cups water
⅔ cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tablespoon of water

Soft pretzels

Instructions

  1. Mix the water, sugar, salt, and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for five minutes, until the yeast starts to bloom (it should look like a layer of foam on the surface of the water).
  2. Add in the butter and flour, and mix until the dough is smooth like satin.
  3. Cover the bowl and let it sit until the dough is doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and spray baking sheets with oil.
  5. Boil water with baking soda in a large saucepan.
  6. Divide the dough into eight pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope and then twist it into pretzel shape.
  7. Dip each pretzel in the boiling water for 30 seconds on each side before placing it on the sheet pan.
  8. Brush the pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle them with salt.
  9. Bake for 12–14 minutes.

About the author

Grace Ruiter is digital content coordinator for the Reformed Church in America.