The details surrounding the pretzel's invention are a modern mystery; the time and place are still truly unknown to this day. Many sources claim they originate from southern Germany where they are known as brezel. Other accounts maintain they were created in neighboring France, ancient Rome, medieval times, or by Native Americans during a harsh winter.
One documented record from 610 A.D. described an Italian monk who gave pretzels as a reward to children for learning prayers. He called them prestiola ("little reward") and folded the strips of dough to resemble crossing arms over the chest. Other theories have a religious significance also stating that the three holes represent the Christian Holy Trinity.
Soft pretzels probably first came to America in 1620 when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. However, widespread availability rose with German immigration to Pennsylvania in the early 1700's. The Pennsylvania Dutch population is still associated with pretzel baking today.
In general, there are soft and hard pretzels. Soft pretzels are more traditional and are still very popular in Germany and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They are about the same size as an open hand. Hard pretzels come in more sizes from 3-4 inches across to miniature pretzels just one inch wide. Shapes are more varied too. Some have extra thick dough or come in long sticks. In recent years, pretzels covered in chocolate or yogurt have become more popular, especially as gift items.