"Bless You" When You Sneeze
One man sneezes and another man says "Bless You!" But the truth of the matter is that no one knows exactly why or where this custom begain. It isn't one that is just limited to the English speaking countries of the world, either. Many countries, cultures, and peoples all over the world have versions that mean health, blessings, or asking god for assistance. There are many possiblities to origins and many interesting differences throughout the world.
Some Possibilities For the Origin
There are many stories about where this custom came from, but many who have actually studied the history believe that the customs date back to around 77 CE, which is much older then most of the stories would lead you to believe.
- Perhaps the most popular story is that of Pope Gregory I. Gregory I, or Gregory the Great depending on your history book, became pope just in time for the bubonic plague of the sixth century. He sent people into the streets to pray and do chants. It was then believed that a sneeze was the first sign of the plague. To which those praying would respond "God bless you!" in hopes of saving the person's life.
- Other stories will tell you that when a person sneezes their defences are down and the devil could enter the person by going down their throat. This belief may have caused people of years gone by to "bless" a person and protect them from the devil.
- Other reports suggest that the soul of a person is trying to get out when a person sneezes and by "blessing" the person you are aiding their soul in returning to their body.
- One last, and fairly common, belief was that the heart stopped on a sneeze and if no one "blessed" them then they would die. The "bless you" was supposed to start the heart again.
No matter which story you believe, the starting place for many of the blessings of people all over the world started from superstitions of good and bad as well as health. While we know these things aren't true, the customs ingrained into society from years of belief are still around.
Blessings All Around The World
- In many English speaking countries you will hear a few different blessings when a person sneezes. These include "Bless You", "God Bless You", and even "Gesundheit!" which is German for "health" (referring to "good health").
- In German they say "Gesundheit!" for "good health".
- In Turkish a phrase is said which means "Long live".
- In Portuguise a phrase is said which means "God raise you".
There are countless others. For all over the world, sneezes have generated the attention of the people.
Responding to a Blessing
In many cultures it is easy to respond to the blessing whether it be one of god, health, good luck, or a general blessing. The most common response is simply "Thank you" or "Thanks" (in the corresponding language!). However, some cultures have complicated interchanges with a sneeze. One example is in Arabic Muslims say: yarHamukum 'llaah/Allah يرحمكم الله which means: May Allah have you in His mercy. The reply is: yarHamuna wa yarHamukum يرحمنا ويرحمكم which means: May He have us both in His mercy.
The End of The Blessings
Many cultures are beginning to move away from the blessings of god, good health, and luck at a sneeze. In some etiquette books it is recommended that you simply ignore sneezes as the world ignores coughs, clearing of the throat, and blowing of the nose. Other places, people just don't care as much and don't want to seek out interaction between strangers. It may be that as time passes more and more countries, cultures, and peoples begin to ignore the sneeze and the history of the blessing! Whether this is good or bad, it is really up to you. As for me, I could use all the blessings I can get in this world!