I find traditions and customs especially annoying when we do them “because we’ve always done them.” So let the snot fly. I’m not necessarily talking about the sneeze but the exchange that follows booger blow in the company of others. Why the hell am I blessing you? Am I really qualified to conduct said blessing? And if you’re not a member of an organized faith, why are you responding in German?
I pursued this knowledge like a true historian: I Googled it on my phone.
Wikipedia says that “… the custom originally began as an actual blessing. Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing (‘God bless you!’) became a common effort to halt the disease.” Or another possible explanation is that “…a person’s soul could be thrown from their body when they sneezed, that sneezing otherwise opened the body to invasion by the Devil, or that sneezing was the body’s effort to force out an invading evil presence.” And yet “…another legend holds that the heart stops beating during a sneeze, and that the phrase ‘bless you’ encourages the heart to continue beating.”
Thorn earned a B.A. in American History from the University of Pittsburgh and a M.A. from Duquesne University. He has spent the last twenty years researching mysticism and the occult in colonial American history.