Girl and boy covering their mouth while sneezing-blog post Akshata Shanbhag

” God Bless You !!”

Have you ever pondered why many of us feel compelled to utter some form of “Bless you” after someone sneezes? Is it a matter of good manners dictating this response? Whether it’s a thunderous nasal explosion or a tiny “achoo,” it seems that no sneeze is complete without a “Bless you.” This automatic response even occurs when the sneezer is a stranger, or we’ve heard the sneeze from a distance, and the response is a simple “thank you.”

Some people say it without fully understanding the reason behind it, often out of politeness or concern for the person who sneezed.

The most widely accepted theory suggests that this tradition has its roots in Rome, during the time of the bubonic plague’s devastating spread across Europe. Sneezing was a prominent symptom of the plague, and it is believed that Pope Gregory recommended the practice of saying “God bless you” after a sneeze to protect the individual from death.

There’s another prevalent notion that suggests our hearts briefly stop when we sneeze, and saying “bless you” serves as a way to welcome the sneezer back from the brink of death.

A more superstitious theory is based on the ancient belief that a sneeze could inadvertently expel the spirit from the body unless God’s blessing prevented it. In other cultures, sneezing was thought to expel evil spirits, leaving both the sneezer and those nearby exposed to wandering spirits. Saying “bless you” was a protective gesture in such cases.

In some cultures, sneezing is seen as a sign of good fortune or an act of divine favor.

Regardless of whether we are concerned about evil spirits, momentary lapses into the afterlife, or the plague, saying “bless you” after a sneeze today is considered a polite and kind gesture. And if, by any chance, it helps safeguard our souls, all the better.

Different communities and cultures have their own ways of expressing “Bless you” in their languages.

So, the next time you say or hear “bless you” after a sneeze, you’ll know the historical reasons behind this custom.

 

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