February 16 is a major cultural milestone in the Western world. On this day in 600 AD, Pope Gregory decreed “God bless you” to be the right response to a sneeze. At one time a sneeze was thought to be a sign of impending death, since many dying people had sneezing fits. Consequently, the usual response was a good-luck chant.
Then opinions changed. The Hebrew Talmud called sneezing “pleasure sent from God”, and the Greeks and Romans thought sneezing was a good omen, responding with “Long may you live!” or “May you enjoy good health.”
Then came the plague. Hoping that a quick prayer might offer at least some protection, Pope Gregory introduced the response of “God bless you” to a sneeze as people started dying throughout Europe. The Pope’s idea spread with the plague and became so popular it has continued to this day.
Taken from The Writer’s Almanac of February 16, 2021 (https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-writers-almanac?).