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Why Do People Hold Their Breath When Driving Past a Graveyard?

Have you been told that you should hold your breath while passing a graveyard?

If so, you aren’t alone!

A widespread folk tale says that if you breathe while driving past a cemetery, the spirits will be jealous of your breath and come to haunt you. Many times children are introduced to this superstition by a parent or older sibling, then one day, they share it themselves.

Today, we’ll take a look at this superstition and a few other graveyard tall tales. 

How Did the Superstition of Holding Your Breath by a Graveyard Get Started?

There’s no clear indication as to exactly when this superstition began. As with many superstitions and folklore topics, it’s a story told time and time again and passed down through generations without a clear origin.

While some believe it has its basis in ancient history, others argue that it’s a modern superstition due to the specifics.

Because the superstition specifically focuses on driving past a graveyard, some think it must have sprung up after the invention of automobiles. 

Some also point to the connection between breath and life. This goes back a lot farther than the invention of the automobile. Many origin stories from around the world begin with an entity breathing life into humanity.

As such, there have been many folktales related to breathing and death. 

We can see this even today, though we may not know the origins. If you cover your mouth when you yawn, you may not realize that this didn’t begin as good manners.

Originally, covering your mouth as you yawned served to protect yourself from spirits entering you through this large breath. The same goes for holding your breath by a graveyard, in theory.

Graveyard in the fog at night.
There are many spooky superstitions surrounding graveyards.

Are There Other Versions of this Belief?

As with many superstitions, there isn’t just one version of the story. Some people will describe the reasoning behind not breathing while passing a graveyard a bit differently.

In another version of the tale, if you breathe while driving past a graveyard, you’ll breathe in the spirit of a recently deceased individual, and they’ll take over your body. 

Most who participate in this superstition are from the western world. Many are from the U.S., but no specific state passes this folklore on more than others.

Many find themselves surprised that friends from around the country have the same superstition about driving past graveyards. 

Pro Tip: Does driving a big rig make you so nervous you feel like you can’t breathe?! Get the help you need at RV Driving School.

Person exhaling after holding breath.
Hold your breath when passing a cemetery if you are superstitious.

Are There Other Graveyard-Centered Superstitions?

Graveyards seem to be the basis for many superstitions. There’s something about them that brings a mixture of curiosity and fear for many people.

While many have fears regarding visiting graveyards after the sun has gone down, there are many other things that people steer clear of when it comes to graveyards.

One common superstition involves how you exit a graveyard. Some say that you should never be the first to exit a graveyard after a funeral. Doing so increases your odds of being the next to die and, at the very least, could bring you bad luck. 

Some believe that pregnant women should never visit a graveyard.

The superstition says that if a pregnant woman visits a graveyard, a spirit could possess her child. Others state that the child could even pass before birth or die before their first birthday. Thankfully, there have been no real-life connections to this superstition!

Ever get a random chill?

Do you know the feeling when you get an unprovoked shiver? Some say that if you have a sudden uncontrollable shiver, someone has walked on your future grave.

Sadly, it appears that the dead can be disturbed before they’re even dead!

Not all graveyard superstitions are bad. If you find yourself with a toothache, a trip to your local graveyard could do the trick. Some say that being near an open grave can help cure a toothache. 

Woman looking out window while driving
For some RVers there are many driving superstitions.

What Are Some Other Driving Superstitions? 

Holding your breath as you pass a cemetery isn’t the only superstition people have these days. Have you ever been in a car when someone touched the ceiling as you quickly made your way through a yellow light?

In some versions, they might even kiss their fingers and touch their roof. This is a way to show thanks that they made it safely through the light. 

Another common driving superstition involves tunnels. When you find yourself driving through a tunnel, hold your breath for the duration of the tunnel.

If you succeed, make a wish as you exit.

It might be best for drivers to leave this one to the passengers; a lightheaded driver can lead to some negative consequences. 

Pro Tip: If you love a spook, check out these 13 Most Haunted Places in the U.S.

Do You Believe?

Whether you believe that you’ll make spirits jealous if you breathe while driving past a graveyard or not, you’ve likely heard of this superstition.

Maybe you’ve not only heard it but have passed the story along as well. Or perhaps you participate in this superstition and hold your own breath while in a car passing a graveyard. Either way, superstitions tend to make their way around for centuries.

What are some superstitions you grew up hearing? Do you believe any of them now? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Karen says:

    We have always said it was “impolite to breathe in front of people who can’t.” For our family it was a fun challenge, not a superstition. Thanks for the history.