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  • There are more catkins hanging from birch trees now in Finland than at least in twenty years. Millions of catkins. And each catkin is bulging with about six millions of minuscule pollen grains hungering to burst out. Wind spreads billions, trillions pollen grains in air and sky above Kotka is thick with birch pollen.

    Even people that are not usually allergic get symptoms during springs like this. Lots of sneezing around.

    In-between the sneezes I got curious what people say to each other all over world after sneezing. In Finland we say: "Terveydeksi." It means "for health". Same kind of expression is used in many languages, for example

    • in Russian: Na zdorovje
    • in Italian: Salute
    • in French: A vos souhaits
    • and in German: Gesundheit

    My favourite in this health category is Hungarian expression “egeszsegedre”. Tongue entangles in Gordian knot while you try to say that.

    More religious weight is needed in English: "Bless you.". Even more powerful is Spanish version. They say: "Jesus!" to someone who sneezes.

    "Achoo! Jesus! Ahchoo! Jesus! Kerchoo! Jesus! Atischoo kerchoo!! Jesus Jesus!!" It would be interesting to hang around in Spain with ears open in birch blooming time.

    In Sweden and in Norway people still live in their glorious Viking memories while sneezing. They say "prosit" there to sneezers. Isn’t it the toast word Vikings used when they drank Valhalla Beer from their enemies’ skull? (Like "cheers" or "tchin tchin" nowadays.)

    Why is it then that we wish health or blessing to sneezers?

    One explanation lies in bubonic plague epidemies of early Middle Age. Sneezing was one of possible first symptoms of the plague. Pope himself ordered in 6th century to bless a sneezer immediately.

    There's another interesting explanation for blessing, too. That one relates with yawns. Yawning was before considered very dangerous because Devil or Evil Spirit could enter you while your mouth was wide open. That's why it was essential that you kept your hand over your mouth when you yawned. (We still do! We think that covering your mouth belongs to good behaviour, we don't know about the habit's importance in self-defence against Evil Spirit.)

    Yawning was dangerous but sneezing was healthful. With sneezes you tried to get rid of Evil Spirit hiding inside of you. Because of that effort you were blessed.

    One thing is clinically certain. Every time we sneeze our hearts stop for a fraction of a second. Sneeze is a little death.

    Birch blooming time is time of hundreds of thousands of little deaths. In the middle of awaking spring life.

    Egeszsegedre! I died. I am alive.
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