by Janice Ross
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To familiarize children with a Lenten story.
Preparation and materials
- You will need some examples of edible shapes associated with celebrations, festivals and seasons – a star-shaped biscuit, pancake, candy cane, small Easter egg, heart-shaped chocolate, marshmallow or baking potato, chocolate bunny or Santa and a pretzel.
- You will also need a small pretzel for each child, to be given out as the end of the assembly. It is important to check if any children have wheat allergies and have an alternative available.
- Ask if anyone has had a birthday or been to a birthday party recently. What did they eat?
Identify that, at birthday parties, there is likely to be a birthday cake with candles. At weddings, too, the menus for the food can vary quite a lot, but there is likely to be a wedding cake. So, often, certain foods are associated with certain celebrations.
- Talk about how festivals and even seasons have foods that we associate with them.
Show the edible shapes you gathered together (see ‘Preparation and materials’ above), apart from the pretzel, and ask the children if they can identify the festival or special season when they might enjoy them. For example:
– star-shaped biscuit – Christmas
– pancake – Pancake Day, or, Shrove Tuesday
– candy cane – Christmas
– small Easter egg – Easter
– heart-shaped chocolate - Valentine’s Day
– marshmallow or a baking potato – Bonfire Night
– chocolate bunny or Santa – Easter or Christmas.
- Now show the pretzel and invite the children to comment. They may say that pretzels are linked to Christmas as they are often seen in shops during the Christmas season. Tell them that you have a story about the origin and purpose of the pretzel shape.
- In the Church calendar, Lent is a season of 40 days before Easter. This is a time for Christians to stop and reflect on the attitudes of their hearts, priorities and spiritual life as they prepare for Easter. There are special services held in churches during Lent, special times of prayer and special readings from the Bible.
In the Early Church, there were also strict Lenten laws to help with this ‘spiritual spring clean’. It was suggested that to abstain from all meat and animal products was a helpful discipline. All the body needed was a very simple snack in the evening.
The story goes that, in the early 600s in Italy, a young monk had the task of preparing just such a simple evening meal for the brothers during the season of Lent. The only ingredients he had available were flour, salt and water, so, of course, he would just make a loaf of bread. He wanted, though, for this to be a special loaf of bread, one that would remind his brothers Lent was a time of prayer and preparation for Easter.
As he kneaded the bread, the young monk prayed and found himself rolling the bread dough into strips. Then he carefully shaped each strip to form a shape that looked like crossed arms. When people prayed in those days they didn’t hold their hands together as we might do (demonstrate), but folded their arms over their chests (demonstrate). The young monk then baked the shapes and the result was specially shaped lovely soft bread. He had made a bread that the brothers would enjoy but would also help them to think about prayer.
The pretzels became very popular. They were an easy gift to give to the poor and the hungry, but they also reminded people that they could speak to God about all their needs.
Time for reflection
Let the children know that they will each be given a pretzel on their way out of assembly today. Say that you would like them to use this to help them pray and ask them what one thing they would like to speak to God about.
Suggest that, whenever they have a quiet moment today, they hold the pretzel (or think of the shape of a pretzel later if they have eaten it!), cross their arms like the monks did and simply speak to God.
Thank you that we can pray to you any time, anywhere, any way.
Thank you that you care about us and about our lives.
Help us to show that we care about you, too, in the way we live.
‘Make me a channel of your peace’ (Come and Praise, 147)