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Why do we say Bless you When Someone Sneezes?

Updated on October 3, 2016

In many cultures saying bless you when someone's sneezes is part of everyday social interactions, much like waving back when someone waves to you or standing in line when waiting to pay, it is just something we do. Very few of us actually know where the use of this blessing originated or why we actually say it.

Most historians agree that the custom of saying bless you is a very old one. The origins of the custom is less clear.

Several sources cite times of plague or during the Black Death as the most likely beginnings of the custom. Sneezing was considered one of the indications that someone was developing the plague and would soon be sick. By blessing them you were asking for divine intervention to keep them well.

Another theory is that in ancient times people believed that your soul could be expelled from your body by a sneeze and taken by the Devil. Saying bless you protected this from happening, the oath protected you soul until it made it back to you.

A further theory was the opposite to the prior one. Sneezing was the bodies way of expelling any evil, consequently saying bless you prevented the evil from re entering the body once it is expelled.

In the times before accurate knowledge of human anatomy it was thought by some that the heart would stop during a sneeze. By blessing them the heart would continue beating.


sneezing | Source

Why do we Sneeze?

Sneezing is the bodies way of expelling something that is invading the nose. It is a reflex that we cannot entirely control. A study by the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center referenced in a National Geographic article

'found that the burst of air produced by a sneeze not only clears nasal passages but also triggers the cilia sensors to kick the paddles into high gear for an extended period—about a couple minutes'.

The body is protecting itself from any germs or allergens.

Things that Make you Sneeze

Causes of a Sneeze
after eating a large meal
looking at a bright light
having a cold
irritants e.g. pepper
plucking your eyebrows
chewing mint gum

Other Times we use Bless You

The saying Bless You is used in a variety of situations not just when someone sneezes. God Bless you or May God Bless You are all variations of a common phrase used to wish the recipient good luck or good health. Often said at the end of meeting or event, it is meant as a way to wish someone well, not always within a religious context. In the UK it is the custom to say to children 'Good Night, God Bless' when they go to bed.

Sneezing Superstitions

if you sneeze it means company is coming over
if your cat sneezes it means it will rain
your heart stops when you sneeze
your eyes can pop out when you sneeze
if you hold a sneeze it causes a stroke
sneezing before putting on one’s shoes is a bad omen
a sneeze before starting work means a bad work day.
a sneeze at the beginning of a meal mean a new friend will be made before your next meal
a sneeze to the right is lucky, the left unlucky
if you sneeze while you are talking you are telling the truth

Traditional Sneezing Rhyme

Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger.

Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger.

Sneeze on Wednesday, sneeze for a letter.

Sneeze on Thursday, something better.

Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for woe.

Sneeze on Saturday, a journey to go.

Sneeze on Sunday, your safety seek—for Satan will have you for the rest of the week!

Interesting Facts about Sneezing

Sneezes start with your nerves
Sneezes travel about 100 miles per hour
You don't sneeze in your sleep
Iguanas are the most sneezy animal
Sneezes have a spray distance of up to 5 miles
Your eyes close automatically when you sneeze.
It's common to have several sneezes in a row

The use of the phrase 'bless you' when someone sneezes is rooted in superstitions and beliefs of ancient times. Whether you use the phrase or expect to hear it when you sneeze, for some it is part of their everyday social etiquette.


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