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Why Do We Say "Bless You" When People Sneeze?

Why do we say 'bless you' or 'gesundheit' when people sneeze? Why do people say bless you when someone sneezes?

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Sneezing is an involuntary reaction if our nasal mucus membrane gets irritated which then makes us expel air from our lungs. That’s just the science behind it, yet we often hear people saying “Bless you” when someone is sneezing as a common courtesy response. This is not being practiced only in the United States as people from different parts of the globe have their own “Bless you” or "God Bless you" versions. Germans would say,”Gesundheit”, which Canadians also adopted; Koreans would utter, “Eichi” and there a lot more other versions.

Rumor has it that the heart stops working in the event of sneezing; the pressure buildup also puts someone in danger of stroke or eyeballs coming out of its socket. There are several reports, however, of slipped discs, burst eardrums and some cases of stroke triggered by sneezing. “Bless you” is said to be a form of gratitude and that someone should be grateful since the sneezer never experienced those life threatening risks.

This mantra is actually centuries old tradition. Not uttering such words can get someone in trouble according to the Judeo-Christian’s perspective. In the story of creation, when God created man He blew the spirit of life through his nostrils. From that, many religions see nostrils as the secret path to the spiritual world and that the act of sneezing is a form of releasing some kind of spirits or life forces. Thus, saying “Bless you” will stop spirits from entering another body. There are also other beliefs that sneezing may let loose one’s spirit through the nostrils so he needed such blessing to prevent it from happening.

Another story behind the “Bless you” response during the Dark and Middle Ages is that sneezing was a sign of the bubonic plague that attacked Rome. One should immediately respond to the sneezer with “Bless you” to avert those evil spirits and prevent the spread of disease. Pope Gregory I, who was the pope at that time, was believed to have ordered prayers and chants to fight the plague. Those who sneeze in his presence were known to have been blessed by him.

With all the theories about sneezing, one thing is for sure – it wouldn’t release spirits or evil forces, rather germs are spread through the air when someone sneezes. Aside from responding with blessings, you might as well want to protect yourself next time.

They say bless you because your heart stops for a millisecond when you sneeze

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