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Why we say: “God bless you” when we sneeze?

There are a few different explanations about the origin of the saying “God bless you” after a sneeze.
(iStock)

Ever since I can remember, I have always responded with a “God bless you,” when I saw someone sneeze. I was told that the kind and the right thing to do, without ever understanding why I was taught to say. But if you have a group, why do we say: “God bless you,” you’re likely to have a number of the responses.

There are a few different explanations about the origin of “God bless you,” or in short, “Bless you.” The first dates from the first century, and is deeply rooted in superstition. Then, a sneeze was sometimes thought to be the body’s way of trying to get rid of the evil spirits. So, in that case, saying: “God bless you” was a way to try to provide a protection, or a good luck charm, against the evil spirits to leave or to inhabit the body.

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Others believed that our hearts stop when we sneeze, so we say: “God bless you,” as a thank you to God, in order to survive. The truth is, the intrathoracic pressure in your body temporarily increases when we sneeze. This will decrease the blood flow back to the heart, and the heart will compensate for this by a modification of the normal heart rhythm is too short to adjust. However, the electrical activity of the heart is not affected during the sneezing.

So how else could this sentence have caught? Well, the Library of Congress lists another reason why we say: “God bless you.” This explanation of the Plague of Justinian of 541 AD – 542 AD, that was a pandemic that spread across the Eastern Roman Empire. It is said that Pope Gregory I decided that at any moment a sneeze was heard, the sneezers were to be blessed, by saying: “God bless you,” while making the sign of the cross over their mouths as protection against the plague.

The Library of Congress says Pope Gregory, shown here in a stained glass portrait, declared that all that sneezing require a blessing.
(iStock)

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Different cultures have a similar response to a sneeze. Some may say “Salud” which is Spanish for “health” or “Gesundheit” which is German for “health”. “Others are “Slainte” which is Irish Gaelic for “good health” and “Jeebo,” which in Bengali means “stay alive.”

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