Hand-kissing is a ritual of greeting and respect. It is initiated by the person receiving the greeting by holding out her/his hand with the palm facing downward. The person kissing bows towards the offered hand and (symbolically) touches the knuckles with his lips, while lightly holding the offered hand. Note that the lips will not actually touch the hand in modern tradition. The gesture is short, lasting less than a second.

Modern usage

The hand-kiss is offered by a woman to a man (the man kissing the hand). It is a gesture of extreme politeness where the lady offering it is expected to be of same or higher social status than the gentleman executing it. It is considered impolite to refuse an offered hand-kiss. It is though possible to fake a kiss onto the hand, by instead kissing ones own thumb, the latter held atop of the hand held; sometimes considered humorous. Hand-kissing has become rare and is mostly restricted to conservative upper class or diplomats. Former French president Jacques Chirac, for example, made it his trademark. Nevertheless, it has largely disappeared as a common greeting habit in Europe, although it can still be observed in Central Europe, especially Austria, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Romania. Central and Eastern Europe also better resist the decline, especially outside intimate circles, of the accolade (a hug) as public greeting between adult men. In Turkey hand-kissing is the common way to greet old people of both genders. After kissing the hand, the greeter will draw the hand to his own forehead.

In the Roman Catholic Church, a Catholic meeting the Pope or less often a Cardinal, or even a lower-ranking prelate, will kiss the ring on his hand. Again this has become uncommon in circles not used to formal protocol, even often dispensed with amongst clergy. However it is still more common in the more demonstrative Mediterranean cultures, especially the Italian baciamano. Sometimes, the devout kisser combines the hand kissing with a genuflection as an even stronger expression of filial respect for the clerically high-ranking father. The cleric may then in a fatherly way lay his other hand on the kisser's head or even bless him/her by a manual cross sign. In the Catholic Church, it is also traditional for the laity to kiss the hands of a newly-ordained priest after his inaugural mass, in veneration of the Body of Christ, which is held in the priest's hands during the Holy Eucharist.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, throughout the world and even in America, it is appropriate and common for laity to greet clergy, whether priests or bishops, by making a profound bow and saying, "Father Bless" while placing their right hand, palm up, in front of their bodies. The priest then blesses them with the sign of the cross and then places his hand in theirs, offering the opportunity to kiss his hand. Orthodox Christians kiss their priest's hands not only to honor their spiritual father confessor, but in veneration of the Body of Christ which the priest handles during the Divine Liturgy as he prepares Holy Communion. The profound bow is frequently omitted. A similar ritual occurs when an Orthodox Christian approaches an icon he wishes to venerate. First the Christian makes a profound bow and makes the sign of the cross twice. Then he approaches the icon more closely, kissing the icon, usually on the representation of Christ's, or the saint's, hand or feet. Lastly, he will make a final profound bow and make the sign of the cross. Orthodox theology teaches that, honor given to the Virgin Mary, ascends to him who was enfleshed by her. This applies to saint's relics or icons and in this case, to the priest's hand. Lastly, it is a common practice when writing a letter to a priest to begin with the words "Father Bless" rather than "Dear Father" and end the letter with the words "Kissing your right hand" rather than "Sincerely."

The hand kissing is used quite prominently in The Godfather series, as a way to indicate the person who is the Don.

At times, a hand kiss is also used to parody the things it traditionally stands for. In this case the kisser would likely initiate it, as a mockery of the situation or the other person.


The gesture was common in European upper class throughout the 18th and 19th century. It started to disappear in the 20th century. It is very uncommon today in Northern European countries. In its modern form, a man kissing the hand of a woman, the hand-kiss originated in the Spanish court ceremonies of the 17th/18th century and became common practice in European upper class in the 18th and 19th century. The gesture probably originated as a formal submission or plead of allegiance of man to man. The man would show his submission by kissing the signet ring (a form of seal worn as a jewelry ring), the symbol of authority of the dominant person.

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