Pre-Lenten & Lenten Foods
Pre-Lenten Foods: See Customs page.
Lenten Foods:1. Pretzels | 2. Soups | 3. Hot Cross Buns | Works Consulted
The humble pretzel is actually the Lenten bread of classical Christianity. In the 400s, because the fast was so strict (e.g., no eggs or butter), Roman Christians made bread during Lent out of flour, water, and salt. And to remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer, they shaped the bread in the form of praying arms (before the gesture of folded hands, Christians used to pray with their arms crossed in front of them). They called these breads bracellae, Latin for "little arms," and from this term comes our word "pretzel."
Though the pretzel is now more associated with Happy Hour or Super Bowl Sunday, its original significance may still be retrieved. And it should be, since it is a food rich in symbolic meaning. A pretzel at dinner every day during Lent would serve as a subtle yet powerful reminder of the season.
Since Lent is obviously not the time for bountiful feasts, simple dishes
take their place. Predominant among these are soups, which tend to vary according to
nationality. Poles, for example, have special recipes for Lenten vegetable or yellow split
pea soups. Cookbooks such as Evelyn Birge Vitz's A Continual Feast (SF: Ignatius
Press, 1985) provide further information, or one can simply begin a family tradition of
Hot cross buns are an English custom eaten only on Good Friday. The
legend is that Father Rocliff of St. Alban's Abbey in Hertfordshire distributed the first
of these buns on Good Friday in 1361 to each poor person who came to the abbey. The custom
spread throughout the country and endured well into the nineteenth century.