When you try to strike a conversation with a stranger, it may always not be reciprocated and sometimes would turn out to be an awkward scene as well. But it is socially accepted when you interact with a stranger and bless him or her, when they sneeze. You will always get a thank you back. This has become an involuntary act for a lot of us. This always reminds me of a funny anecdote.
There was this young lady, who had the habit of sunbathing in her hedge lined backyard. Assured of the privacy the hedges offered, she would often go nude. But she put an end to that one day when she sneezed and heard her voyeur neighbor responded with a bless you! We are all conditioned to say bless you when someone sneezes. But why are we saying that?
Before we go there, let us talk about a nursery rhyme and yes, there is a connection!
A pocket full of posies
We’re all fall down.
We all have sung this song but do we know what it means? There are various versions of this rhyme in different languages, each with its own story. But what I heard in the UK sounded plausible even though experts say this is just an urban myth. The story is that this song was written about the Great Plague that England faced. The typical symptoms were pink colored round rashes that appear on the body and a bout of sneezing and coughing meant that the end is near. There were so many dead that the air smelt of the dead and hence people carried a bouquet of herbs, called the posies, to ward off the smell. Hence Ring of Roses, Pocket full of posies, Sneezing and falling down.
Coming back to Bless You, during this time, when someone starts sneezing, people around would realize that the end is near and would send for the priest do give the final prayers and blessings. But during the height of the plague, there were so many people dying that there was no time for priests to come and give the final blessings. Therefore, those around took that responsibility. Over a period of time there was no time for a detailed prayer and hence it was shortened to saying 'May God bless you'. Something that survived today.
Thankfully today, sneezing does not mean the end of the road for that person and nor do we mean our wishes to be the final prayers for that person!