It might be only just another day in February 2016, but about fifteen hundred years ago, this was the day when Pope Gregory decided that people would have to say ‘God bless you’ every time they heard someone else sneeze. This was his way of trying to prevent the spread of plague as sneezing was known to be a symptom of one of the strains of the disease. The Pope thought that God would a) prevent the disease from taking hold, b) prevent the soul from jumping out via the open mouth and nose, and c) prevent the heart from stopping as it was believed to do during a sneeze.
Gregory’s belief was not very different from that of others of the time. Even today, Indians say ‘Jiyo’ or Live, the Chinese say ‘Bai sui’ or Live for a hundred years and the Russians say ‘Rosti bolshoi’ or Grow big. The Germans say ‘Gesundheit’ and the Romans used to say ‘Salve’ which both refer to good health for the sneezer and thus the people around them.