Why Do We Say “God Bless You” When Someone Sneezes?


For many of us, the automatic response when someone sneezes is to say “God bless you.” This practice has been around for centuries, but have you ever wondered where this tradition originated? As it turns out, the custom of blessing a sneeze has some fascinating historical roots.

The Superstitious Origins

The practice of saying “God bless you” (or some variation thereof) when someone sneezes can be traced back to the Middle Ages in Europe. During this time period, there was a widespread belief that when a person sneezed, their soul momentarily left their body. This was seen as a vulnerable time, when evil spirits could potentially enter the body.

By quickly saying a blessing, people believed they could protect the sneezer’s soul and ward off any malevolent forces. The blessing was thought to bring the person’s spirit safely back into their body. Some also believed that the heart stopped momentarily during a sneeze, so the blessing was meant to restart it.

The Plague Connection

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the practice of saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed took on a particularly profound significance. This was due to the devastating pandemics of the Black Death that swept through the continent in the 14th century.

The bubonic plague, as it was also known, was one of the deadliest outbreaks of disease in recorded history. Estimates suggest it killed between 30-50% of Europe’s total population at the time. The plague was a terrifying and mysterious illness, with symptoms that included fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and – crucially – uncontrollable sneezing.

In the absence of any real medical understanding of the plague, people turned to superstition and religion to try and make sense of the calamity. Sneezing was seen as one of the earliest warning signs that someone had contracted the deadly disease. As a result, the blessing uttered after a sneeze took on a far more urgent and desperate meaning.

By saying “God bless you” or a similar benediction, people believed they could protect the sneezer from falling victim to the plague. The blessing was meant to shield the individual’s soul and body from the ravages of the illness, and prevent the spread of the contagion to the wider community.

Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned as the head of the Catholic Church during the initial outbreaks of the Black Death, is said to have been the one who mandated the universal practice of blessing sneezes. He likely saw it as a simple but powerful way to combat the plague through prayer and divine intervention.

The custom spread rapidly throughout Christendom and became deeply ingrained in Western culture. As the plague receded over the following centuries, the blessing retained its place as an automatic social nicety. But the medieval origins, born of genuine desperation in the face of unimaginable loss of life, lent the practice a particular poignancy.

Even today, when we reflexively say “bless you” to a sneezing stranger, we are unconsciously carrying on a centuries-old tradition forged in the fires of one of humanity’s greatest tragedies. It is a small gesture, but one that reminds us of our shared vulnerability, and the power of community and faith to see us through even the darkest of times.

Enduring Tradition

Even as modern medicine and scientific understanding have long since dispelled the supernatural explanations for the simple act of sneezing, the age-old custom of saying “God bless you” in response has endured. This quaint tradition has become so deeply ingrained in our cultural fabric that it is now an automatic social nicety – a small but meaningful gesture of goodwill towards our fellow human beings.

The origins of this practice may be firmly rooted in the superstitions and religious beliefs of the Middle Ages, but the sentiment behind the blessing has transcended its inauspicious beginnings. In those distant times, people genuinely believed that a sneeze caused the soul to momentarily leave the body, leaving the individual vulnerable to the intrusion of evil spirits. Uttering a blessing was seen as a way to safely return the spirit and protect the sneezer from harm.

However, as our scientific understanding of the human body and the nature of disease has progressed, we now know there is no such supernatural basis for the practice of blessing sneezes. The soul does not depart the body, the heart does not stop, and sneezing is simply a natural reflex, not a sign of impending illness.

And yet, the tradition persists. Why? Because at its core, it remains a small but thoughtful gesture of care and concern for our fellow human beings. When we automatically say “bless you” to a sneezing stranger, we are communicating a basic sentiment of goodwill – a moment of shared humanity in the midst of a routine bodily function.

The origins may be rooted in superstition, but the essence of the tradition has evolved to reflect our enduring desire to look out for one another, to acknowledge our shared vulnerability, and to offer a kind word in response to the simple universal experience of sneezing. It is a custom that has withstood the test of time, persisting as a gentle, ingrained part of our daily social interactions.

In an age that often feels increasingly isolating and impersonal, the simple act of blessing a sneeze serves as a poignant reminder of our common humanity. It is a tradition that has endured for centuries, and will likely continue to be passed down for generations to come.

Read also: How to receive Holy spirit


The next time you hear someone sneeze and automatically respond with “Bless you,” take a moment to appreciate the centuries-old history behind this common courtesy. What started as a supernatural protection against evil spirits has evolved into a simple expression of care and goodwill. It’s a small but meaningful tradition that reminds us of our shared humanity.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment