A common sign of affection throughout all societies is kissing, or the touching of one's lips to the lips or other body part, such as the cheek, of another person. Whether the kiss is meant romantically, as a sign of respect, or as a greeting, kissing is a tradition that is familiar to almost all cultures. Similar to other traditions, kissing traditions have been passed down from generation to generation.
A greeting is much more than a simple kiss, a hand shake or a hug. The way in which you greet someone reflects upon your social etiquette, your character and is often the basis behind a first impression. Facial expression, gestures, body language and eye contact are all signals of what type of greeting is expected. Gestures are the most obvious signal, for instance greeting someone with open arms is generally a sign that we want to hug; however, if we were to greet someone with arms crossed it would be viewed as a sign of hostility. Facial expression, body language and eye contact give away the greeter's emotions and interest level. A frown, slouching and lowered eye contact suggests disinterest, while smiling and an exuberant attitude is a sign of welcome. Throughout all cultures people greet one another as a sign of recognition, affection, friendship and reverence. While hand shakes, hugs, bows, nods and nose rubbing are all acceptable greetings, the most common greeting is a kiss, or kisses, on the cheek. Cheek kissing is “a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect.”
Cheek kissing is most common in Europe and Latin America and has become a standard greeting in Southern Europe.
While cheek kissing is a common greeting in many cultures, each country has a unique way in which they do so. In Russia, the Netherlands and Egypt it is customary to “kiss three times, on alternate cheeks.” Italians usually kiss twice in a greeting and in Mexico only one kiss is necessary. In the Galapagos women kiss on the right cheek only and in Oman it is not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake. French culture accepts a number of ways to greet depending on the region. Two kisses are most common throughout all of France but in Provence three kisses are given and in Nantes four are exchanged.
Kiss Me At the Kissing Bench
The Syracuse University
senior class of 1912 left behind a stone bench. With this gesture the graduating class hoped "to begin a tradition of graduating classes leaving behind similar gifts that would add to the beauty of the campus."
While the bench does enhance the beauty of the Syracuse University
quad, the kissing bench has become much more than an ordinary seat. In the 1950s it was said that if a woman were kissed while sitting on the bench she would "avoid the risk of becoming a spinster."
However, in 1970 the tradition was expanded to state that a woman must be kissed on the bench to graduate and marry. Currently the tradition stands that if a man and woman kiss while sitting on the kissing bench they will eventually marry.
Since this tradition began in the 1950s many couples have begun their lives together at the kissing bench.
Meet Me At the Kissing Post
The kissing post, supporting Ellis Island
’s registry room, is a famous column at which millions of US immigrants reunited with family. At the registry room, final stages of the immigration process were completed. Then, as immigrants moved towards the pillar it marked a significant moment in their journey. Processed immigrants would search for family members who were to meet them at the kissing post. The once ordinary post was named the kissing post by staff members at Ellis Island
in reaction to the "joyful reunions" and kisses between relatives and loved ones.
Not only did immigrants endure the long passage to the United States but upon arriving they underwent a lengthy inspection process.
This emotional process included physical exams, medical detentions, Board hearings for unaccompanied woman and children and separation from family members.
Seeing the kissing post at the end of their journey to America was an emotional conclusion to their experience. The kissing post signifies freedom, reunion and a new beginning.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
The famous Blarney Stone
(also called the Stone of Eloquence) is found on the top story of the Castle of Blarney near a small town in Ireland
. It is inconveniently placed below the battlements on the parapet, so the tradition of kissing
this stone can be difficult to accomplish. Originally, people would be hung by their feet over the parapet so they could be lowered to reach the stone. However, after a man died from falling, a new system was developed. The person now lies on their back with someone securing their feet, and they lower themselves downward while holding on to iron rails. Then they are able to reach the stone that people have kissed for hundreds of years. How this tradition started is unknown, but people who succeed in kissing the stone are said to be given the gift of eloquence. One legend describes an old woman who was rescued from drowning by the king of Munster
. She rewarded him by casting a spell on a stone that would give him magical speaking abilities whenever he kissed it. Another story tells of a past ruler of the castle, Dermont McCarthy, who was noted for never giving up his castle to Queen Elizabeth I
. McCarthy was expected to give the castle to the Queen as a sign of his loyalty, however he always seemed to have an excuse to put it off. He was said to have had convincing and eloquent reasons for postponing his gift, thus the Queen began to call it “Blarney talk.” The word Blarney now means “the ability to influence and coax with fair words and soft speech without giving offense.”
This led to the belief that anyone who kissed the stone would receive McCarthy’s skill or the “gift of the gab,” as locals call it.
Many have traveled to become more eloquent including Sir Walter Scott
, world leaders, American presidents
, and international entertainers. They all come for this promise: kiss the Blarney Stone, and "you’ll never again be lost for words."
Kiss Me Under the Mistletoe
under a mistletoe
plant during the holidays is one of the most well known kissing traditions. Today, mistletoe is strategically placed over a doorway during the holiday season. If a man and woman find themselves standing under it, they are expected to kiss. The origin of this tradition
is found in ancient Norse mythology
. According to the myth, a goddess named Frigg had a son named Baldr. When he was born, she made all plants unable to hurt him. Yet she overlooked the mistletoe plant, and a god known for his mischief, Loki, tricked another god into killing Baldr with a spear made of mistletoe. The gods eventually brought Baldr back to life, and Frigg declared that mistletoe would bring love rather than death into the world. People then kissed under the mistletoe to obey the goddess, as well as to remember Baldr’s resurrection.
Another theory is that this tradition originated in the ancient Babylonian-Assyrian Empire. Single women apparently stood under mistletoe hung outside of the temple for the goddess of beauty and love. They were expected to bond with the first man that approached them - but they did not kiss. At this time, showing affection by kissing hadn’t reached this part of the world yet.
Historically, mistletoe was seen as a supernatural, healing plant. It was believed to promote fertility, and its leaves were said to be an aphrodisiac. Mistletoe was once a part of marriage ceremonies for this reason, and was placed under couples’ beds for good luck.
The tradition later was found in England
, when young men would kiss women standing under the mistletoe, and would pluck a berry from the bush after each kiss. After all the berries were gone, it was bad luck to continue kissing under that bush. It is important to remember that during this period of time a kiss was taken very seriously- it was usually seen as a promise of marriage.
In some traditions, newly married couples exchange a kiss at the conclusion of their wedding ceremony. Some Christians hold the belief that the kiss symbolizes the exchange of souls between the bride and the groom, fulfilling the scripture that “the two shall become one flesh;” however the root of the tradition can also be explained through an ancient Roman tradition. Much like a handshake, the Romans’ exchange of a kiss was used to sign a contract. A kiss after a wedding ceremony “seals the deal” and although the kiss is not a required part of the ceremony, most will agree that this sign of affection is an enjoyable exchange to tie the knot. After the reception there are many opportunities for the bride and groom to kiss and wedding guests are always creative in making them do so. The most traditional way guests entice the new couple to kiss is by clinking their glasses. An ancient Christian tradition explains that the clinking sound scares the devil away and the couple kisses in his absence. Another tradition is to ring bells placed at the tables by the wedding party. A ring of the bell signals the bride and groom to kiss. Today most people uphold these traditions as a fun excuse to get the couple to smooch.
New Years Kiss
In some cultures, there is a tradition of kissing someone at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve
. When the clock strikes twelve couples spontaneously embrace for a kiss to celebrate the upcoming year. Some hold the superstition that failing to kiss someone when the ball drops ensures a year of loneliness.
Whether this is true or not, most people kiss their significant other in joyous celebration of the beginning of a new year.
Youth and Kissing
Child and teenage culture includes a number of simple songs about kissing, love and romance, with some revolving around heartbreak and others focussing on enduring love. One of the most famous songs is a children’s song often used to tease other children who are thought to feel affection toward each other:
[girl’s name] and [boy’s name] sitting in a tree
First comes love, then comes marriage
Then comes a baby in the baby carriage
Teenagers sometimes explore the world of dating
with friends, classmates and crushes through kissing games. Such games include Truth or Dare?
, Seven minutes in heaven
, Spin the bottle
, Post Office
, and Wink
. These games act as icebreakers at co-ed parties and are a gateway into the adult world of serious dating. Teenagers are exposed to kissing by the media at an early age and kissing games are a way of experimenting. Teen-oriented movies such as Clueless
advocate a kissing game known as "Suck and Blow". To play this game a group of people will form a circle and pass a playing card
by blowing and sucking air through their mouths. The main point of this game is to pass the card around the circle, but the underlying reason for playing is the chance that the card might slip and two people will sneak a kiss.
Kissing in Christianity
Kissing out of honor, respect, and even forgiveness is a tradition that is incorporated into many Christian denominations. The kissing of icons, painted images of Jesus and the Saints, is the primary form of veneration in Orthodox Christianity. Veneration of the holy images is an ancient custom dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries, and is still practiced today in Orthodox Christian worship. Through veneration, Orthodox Christians show reverence for the people and the events depicted in the icon. Another kissing tradition in Christianity is known as the “kiss of peace.” The root of this tradition comes from Apostle Paul’s instruction for Christ’s followers to “greet each other with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16) however today during the “kiss of peace” members of a church will exchange a handshake, hug, or kiss on the cheek as a sign of mutual forgiveness.
The most relevant topic regarding religious kisses is the kissing of feet. Feet washing, which precedes the kissing, is a sign of humbleness and is looked upon as an "act of lowly service, of loving service, and of self-giving service." This caring act "reflects the grace of God’s never-ending, unconditional love and, as such, its observance is surely a means of grace with exceedingly strong sacramental characteristics." Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then commanded them to "wash one another's feet" (John 13:12) with love and humbleness as a service through which one can express "the love of God and the saving, cleansing grace of our savior Jesus Christ to each other." After cleansing, a kiss would be bestowed on the feet as an act of servitude. By performing the actions of the lowliest servant, Jesus demonstrated what kind of servant-based leadership was expected from his disciples.
Kissing a Bishop's Ring
Kissing the hand or ring of a bishop (in Italian, the bacciamano) is an ancient custom.
Kissing the Pope’s Ring
Kissing the Ring of the Fisherman
, or the Pescatorio in Italian, is a Roman Catholic
tradition that has been passed down for centuries.
Each newly ordained Pope is given a gold ring with his name in raised lettering and the image of St. Peter in a fishing boat.
The Pope is believed to be the spiritual inheritor of the apostle Peter, who was known as one of the “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Originally the ring was used to seal documents, historically called papal briefs. However, this custom ended in 1842 when the wax seal was replaced by a stamp. Today, followers of the Catholic faith pay respect to the reining Pope by kneeling before him and kissing his ring.
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