The fourth Sunday of Lent (27 March 2022) is traditionally when men give their sweetheart a pretzel or bretzel. If their love is returned, they’ll receive an egg on Easter Sunday.
Ladies turn in leap years
In leap years, the tradition is reversed. This year, it's the men. But get ready men, as you might find instead of an egg you get an empty basket on Easter Sunday, which means you’ve been rejected or dumped, hence the Luxembourgish expression “de Kuerf kreien” or “to be given the basket”.
The tradition dates back to the 18th century, when young women would shout the name of the man they quite liked the look of at Buergbrennen whilst tossing wood onto the bonfire. Those young men with a keen ear could then act on this hint, and present the girl with a pretzel.
Originally, pretzels were made from flour, water and salt (with no eggs, fat or milk) which meant they could be eaten during Lent.
Today in Luxembourg, they come in a giant size (because size does matter, and the bigger the pretzel, the more your adoration), and the most popular variety is covered in fondant icing and almonds.
Interlacing arms or a noose?
The shape of the pretzel is supposed to represent the lovers interlacing arms but historians say that the pretzel was originally given as a reward to Italian children who learnt their prayers. The folded dough was said to resemble arms crossing the chest and the baked treats were known as “pretiola” meaning little rewards. The Latin term for “little arms” is “bracellae” which is probably where the German term bretzel comes from, and explains why it is sometimes called a bretzel or a pretzel.
According to history.com, the popularity of pretzels spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages as a symbol of luck but also this food was commonly distributed to the poor. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the humble pretzel became a symbol of love, possibly first in Switzerland where couples used them as an emblem of love at their wedding ceremonies.
Other historians claim that the pretzel is a symbol of human sacrifice to the Celtic goddess Sirona, and that the shape represents a three-part-noose used for hanging three people. Not very romantic, but I guess it depends what you think about wedlock.
Pre-pandemic, you’d be served a baked treat from the Pretzel Queen and her bakers at a city parade.
Bake your own bretzel
To make your own Luxembourgish bretzels at home, you’ll find a recipe here.