When I was little there were only two occasions when someone might say ‘Bless you’. The first was when you sneezed. The second was when someone wanted to indicate compassion or affirmation, the blesser always being someone of indeterminate age. i.e. So old you couldn’t place them. Why is it that when you’re young you can never guess the age of old people and when you’re…er…middle aged, you literally have no idea how old young people are. The other day, I guessed someone was ‘about 30’. It turns out she is 43. Then there’s policemen. If you put one of my (former) Year 6 students in uniform, I would definitely fail in a Spot the Difference.
Why do we say Bless you! after someone sneezes? I must admit I haven’t thought about this much. I say it because if I didn’t, the sneezer might think me rude. If someone says Bless you! after I’ve sneezed, I automatically say Thank you! It would seem rude not to take time to show one’s appreciation for being blessed wouldn’t it? Having said that, I always say Bless you! to Oliver cat, when he sneezes and he never thanks me. He usually falls promptly asleep. But then, you know, he’s a cat.
Apparently, one of the reasons we do the Bless you thing with sneezing is because of the plague. Around 590, Pope Gregory the Great believed a sneeze was an early warning sign that you might have the disease so he told Christians to respond to a sneeze with a blessing. Originally God bless you, this was a kind of prayer over someone, asking for God’s favour and protection. I love this. Of course not everyone believes in God, but we are told that words have power for lots of reasons. I like to think that if no faith is involved, on either side or both, the words Bless you! still have power. They can still chuck some good stuff over the sneezer, whether they have a cold, allergies or just, you know, an itch somewhere deep in the nostril region.
What I find more intriguing is that, these days, it’s not only old ladies who say Bless you! The phrase, often shortened to Bless seems to be a response to something cute, sad or annoying. He said he loved me/I wish I was 20 again /I shut my face in the fridge and really hurt my nose (This has actually happened to me, twice)
Everybody says it now. And I’ve never heard anybody say ‘Excuse me. Just un-bless me there, would you? I do not believe in God/the power of words/good stuff being chucked over me.’ The truth is Bless you is everywhere. It’s even in the Urban Dictionary. I really like that. Particularly at the moment, when there is plague and we’re away from our loved ones, and there are many, many forays to the fridge with possible long-term damage to people’s noses (or at least mine).
So, you know, today on this grey Sunday, pick the version you like best. With my love.
God bless you
Also, if you haven’t seen this, it is rather lovely (particularly if you chose the third one.