Day and night, Bartholomew Dozen worked in his small bakery next to noisy train tracks leading to the Wild West.
As Bartholomew kneaded the dough, trains passed by and blew their whistles. Sometimes, weary travelers would jump off the trains and stop by his bakery for a loaf of fresh bread. The scent of the warm loaves filled the neighborhood and would attract friends and strangers.
However, the bakery also attracted thieves, and looting in the neighborhood had grown in recent years. More often than he would like, Bartholomew had broken windows and stolen baskets of bread. Despite the hardship, Bartholomew had spent twelve years baking bread to fill hungry stomachs and hearts.
Each Christmas Eve, Bartholomew would host a meal for the poor, spreading holiday joy and cheer. By selling his loaves to the community, he had sustained his wife and twelve children, and he always had enough leftover bread to share with anyone who needed a helping hand. Even when strangers stole from him, he tried to overlook the theft, grateful for the goodness in his life.
Every morning, his wife, Catharine, woke up early and helped to prepare the dough for the oven. “Today is going to be a beautiful day,” she would say to Bartholomew, as she dusted the flour from his apron. During springtime, she cut roses from the bush outside the bakery and placed them in vases on the counter.
One winter afternoon the week before Christmas, a stranger wandered into the bakery. The stranger wore an old leather jacket, a black hat, and shiny silver spurs on his leather boots.
“Good afternoon, Ma’am. I just jumped from the train, and I’m in need of a job. I have no money to my name, and I would do right by you and your family, if you would hire me,” he said.
Hearing the hobo’s plea, Bartholomew walked from the back of the bakery with candy canes in his apron pocket.
“Sir, I have no job to offer you. But would you like to have dinner with our family tonight? We would like to offer you some kindness on your journey. We’re all on a journey, aren’t we?” Bartholomew said.
“Thank you, I would like that very much,” the hobo said, hanging his hat on a hook on the wall. The hobo knelt down in the entrance of the bakery and said, “Thank you, Father, for providing.” Then he stood up and shook Bartholomew’s hand saying, “My name is Peter Jesse.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Bartholomew said, handing him a candy cane from his apron.
As Peter Jesse introduced himself, a sudden crash happened in the back of the store. A young boy slipped out the side door with handfuls of bread, knocking over bags of flour. Bartholomew ran to the cash register, to find the drawer hanging open with wads of cash missing.
“Let me help you clean up the flour,” Peter said to Bartholomew, grabbing the broom and dustpan.
“Maybe the young boy will return what he stole, except that maybe he needs it,” Bartholomew said.
Later that evening in the Dozen’s home, Catharine prepared a buffet of sausage, vegetables, bread, and apple cobbler. In between the knives and forks on the table, Bartholomew placed a single candy cane at each place setting.
As Peter and the family held hands, Bartholomew prayed a blessing of gratitude over the meal. Before Bartholomew served himself, he served Peter, his wife, his seven daughters, and his five sons. As Peter and the Dozen family enjoyed dinner, snowflakes fell from the winter sky.
“It’s only a few days until Christmas, and I have nothing to repay you for your kindness,” Peter said. “Nothing of great monetary value that is . . . but I do have this,” he said, reaching into his upper shirt pocket. He pulled out a small slip of paper and unfolded it, staring at it in silence, as though it was sacred.
“It’s my family’s pretzel recipe. Have you ever had a pretzel? They look like children’s arms folded in prayer. There are three holes in every pretzel to represent the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Pretzels bring prosperity to everyone who eats them, especially couples getting married or ‘tying the knot.’ Children can hang pretzels on Christmas trees and wear them around their necks on New Year’s Eve. Promise me you will make pretzels in my honor. I have the pretzel recipe memorized,” Peter said, handing it to Bartholomew.
Bartholomew took the slip of paper, showed it to his wife, and placed it in his jacket pocket. “Why, Peter, I’ve never made anything but loaves of bread my entire life!” Bartholomew said.
“It’s easy. You just hand roll the dough and twist it into soft pretzels, almost like the red twist in those peppermint candy canes that you like to eat so much,” Peter said.
“At Christmas, I give candy canes to my children to remind them of the shepherds who visited baby Jesus. Candy canes almost look like a Shepherd’s Crook. St. Nicholas loves to bring them to children!” Bartholomew said.
After having his fill of cobbler, Peter folded his napkin on the table, stood up, and approached Bartholomew.
“Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Dozen. Now I must be on my way. I can catch the midnight train,” Peter said.
“Please let us know if you pass this way again,” Bartholomew said, standing and shaking Peter’s hand. “Merry Christmas!” he added, handing Peter a handful of red and white candy canes from his jacket.
Bartholomew walked Peter to the front door and watched him from the window as he walked toward the train. As Peter passed the bakery, which stood next to his home, Bartholomew noticed another broken window in the shop.
“Why? After all the good I have done for everyone!” Bartholomew said, grabbing his jacket to go clean up the glass.
On Christmas Eve, Bartholomew and his family held their annual holiday meal for anyone in need. After dinner, the entire family went to church and sang Christmas carols all the way home. Each of the children snuggled up in bed and waited for good St. Nick to jump down the chimney with gifts.
Early Christmas morning, a neighbor banged on the front door of the Dozens’ home, yelling: “Hurry! Hurry!”
“Good Christmas Day!” Bartholomew said, opening the door to find a thief running from his bakery’s entrance. Then a flame of fire burst the bakery window and tore through the roof of the building. “Run for water! Everyone quick! We could lose everything! Everything!” Bartholomew cried.
Despite the entire neighborhood dousing the bakery with water, much of the building went up in smoke.
“Oh, God, what is my family going to do? The bakery! How will we survive now?” Bartholomew said.
“We’ll get through this somehow. The children will help us,” Catharine said through her tears.
Then the wind blew the pretzel recipe from Bartholomew’s jacket pocket, and he grabbed it at once.
“Pretzels! We will make pretzels! We’ll make our money back with pretzels!” Bartholomew said to Catharine.
So instead of losing everything, neighbors who ate fresh bread at Bartholomew’s bakery helped him rebuild. One at a time, his twelve children twisted dough into pretzels and put their creations into the bakery ovens.
Customers from near and far lined up down the street for pretzels, which Bartholomew insisted always bring blessings.
“Cover them in salt! Yellow mustard! Dip them in chocolate!” he said, after experimenting in trial and error. “Try hard pretzels! Last night, I over-baked the dough and burnt a batch! They’re as good as the soft ones.”
Soon Bartholomew stopped making loaves of bread; he had more success with pretzels than he could imagine. The Good Shepherd had sent him a Christmas angel with a pretzel recipe for children everywhere.
Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters
Dedicated to my grandfather Wilson Moyer, who loved to eat pretzels.