Why Do People Say "God Bless You" After a Sneeze?

man sneezing

 

Ah....Ah....AH-CHOO! 

Sneeze around other people and you're likely to hear one of two common things that people say to other people when they hear them sneeze. Most people will either say "Gesundheit" or "God bless you" when someone sneezes. 

"Gesundheit" is a German word that means "health." This makes sense because sneezes are often a warning someone is getting sick and they accompany colds and other illnesses as a symptom. It was likely brought over to America when German-speaking immigrants started arriving en masse around the beginning of the last century. 

The saying "God bless you" dates even further back, with most sources attributing it to Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned in the 6th century. It's believed he started saying it to people he heard sneeze during an outbreak of the bubonic plague, since sneezing is one of the first signs that appears when someone contracts the plague. 

 

Various forms of "Gesundheit" and "God bless you" exist in countries spanning the globe. From America to India, every race has some manner of wishing good health or a blessing on a sneezer. This likely dates back to our ancient ancestors, who believed a sneeze could cause the soul to leave the body or that a sneeze could provide an entry way into the body for evil spirits roaming the Earth. It was believed the blessing preserved the soul and prevented the evil spirit from capturing the soul or entering the body. 

The next time someone blesses you after a sneeze, you can thank your lucky stars. You'll know your soul is safe inside you!