The history of everyone's favorite pasttime: kissing.
| Why do people kiss? Where did it come from? Did it always exist? What various meanings has kissing held throughout history? Why does the couple kiss at the end of weddings? Why do people kiss under mistletoe? Kissing is a very intriguing subject because of all the people we kiss in our lives, the different ways we kiss these various people, and because of all of the traditions attached to kissing. It also makes us tingle and feel all warm inside when we kiss someone we love, or it makes us go cold when talking about someone receiving the kiss of death. Kissing is an integral part of our culture, but how many of us actually know why we kiss?
There is no concrete evidence of how kissing came to exist, but there are some plausible theories and some intriguing myths to make the pondering pleasant. The earliest theory is that the kiss started in very ancient times, between mother and child. The mother provided soft food for her child by chewing the food, and then transferring the chewed food into the child’s mouth, a practice known as premastication. Thus we have filial kissing. The earliest concrete evidence we have of kissing as we know it is in the pagan religion of ancient Rome, where Romans kissed each other in greeting. It is said that a Roman emperor ranked the nobility by the manner in which he allowed them to kiss him. The most important nobility were allowed to kiss the emperor on the lips, average nobility kissed his hands, and lesser nobility kissed his feet. Another theory is that in early Europe, Asia, and Africa, kissing was derived from the practice of bringing faces together in spiritual union. In India, it was believed that exhalation was the soul leaving the body, therefore if a person inhaled someone else’s exhalation, they would be receiving and intermingling their two souls.
One of the most popular world myths, and perhaps the most romantic, is the story of two young lovers who were engaged to be married. As was custom, the young man gave the young lady a token of engagement, similar to today’s engagement ring. While she was out in the fields, she was attacked, and to keep the token safe, she put it in her mouth. Her lover heard of her attack and ran out to her, where she was alone, but shaking. He took her in his arms, and tried to console her over the loss of the token, as he could not see it anywhere. She opened her mouth to show him where it was, and he was very pleased. He wanted to take it from her mouth, but also did not want to let go of her. He leaned down and took it from her mouth using his lips, and this was the first kiss. Realizing the pleasure of the kiss, the token was removed, the kissing resumed, and kissing is now embedded in our culture.
Now that kissing has been established, there are still a few unexplained phrases and traditions involving kissing. One of the most well known traditions is the kiss at the end of a wedding ceremony. This tradition comes from various sources, one of them the afore-mentioned spiritual union of faces. Another source also goes back to early Romans times, when kissing was used as a legal, contractual bond, which ended many things, including weddings. Another well-known tradition is that of kissing underneath the mistletoe. This tradition goes all the way back to an early Norse myth. There was a
young god named Balder, whose mother loved him so much that she secured promises from the elements of fire, water, air and earth to not let any harm come to her son. An evil spirit, Loki, found a way around all of this protection to kill Balder: an arrow made from the wood of a branch of mistletoe, fired unknowingly from the arm of Balder's blind brother. Balder was restored to life with his mother's tears, and she was so thankful that she changed the fate of the mistletoe, making it a symbol of love rather than death, and promising a kiss to all who stand under it, giving us our custom.
Another well-known but less practiced tradition is that of kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland. This tradition comes from an old Irish legend in which an old woman was drowning, but a king saved her from this terrible fate. She was so grateful to him for saving her that she cast a spell on a stone in the king’s castle at Blarney. When he kissed the stone, as she told him to do, he was blessed with persuasive eloquence, or the gift of gab. This tradition has continued in the hopes that everyone who kisses the stone will receive the magical properties that the old woman placed on the stone. To reach the stone, you must lie down and lean over the edge of the castle backwards, kissing the stone while virtually upside-down.
A fun way that many people end letters, notes and, emails is to sign hugs and kisses: XOXO. This expression dates back to the Middle Ages, when many people were illiterate, and used to mark their X as their signature for official documents. The X stood for St. Andrew’s mark, and people would kiss their X to pledge their honesty in St. Andrew’s name. After a while, the X came to mean just the kiss, and we now use it in our everyday correspondence with friends and family, in a lighthearted show of affection.
When girls are in their pre-teens, they tend to start thinking about their first kiss: a very important milestone that will be remembered forever. Even most guys remember their first kiss and the girl they shared it with. Some people have first kisses in the back seats of cars, others on couches; mine was in a barn with my first boyfriend, when I was 14. Special occasions often mark the first kiss, such as New Years Day, Christmas Eve, and parties. Some first kisses I have collected: in an ice skating rink at discovery zone, aged 12; empty baseball stands, aged 17; outside a party aged 12; in a car after ballet class, aged 17; at summer camp in the woods, aged 14; backseat of a Volvo, aged 5 (and then again with the same guy at the beach, at 13); the day before Christmas, aged 13; in a hotel room on a Church trip, aged 14; in the movies, at aged 13; on the bus at a field trip, aged 12; at a school dance, aged 14; in the best friend’s bedroom (while the best friend waited outside), aged 14; during a game of spin the bottle, aged 11; in a tree, aged 11; on the playground during a kickball game, aged 8. Most are admittedly awkward, and most did not involve tongue (although the occasional one did). Over time, the kissing improves and progresses to full-on make out sessions, leading to...
There are also, of course, bad things associated with kissing. One such example of this is known as ass kissing. This common phrase became popular in the 1930's in American military, however it has existed in various other similar forms as early as the 1700's. It was attributed to the reasoning that someone kissing someone's ass would be trying to win favor in a degrading manner. Another bad thing associated with
kissing is the phrase and idea of the kiss of death. The origin of this idea is not entirely clear, however it has been attributed to the early Romans, possibly as a result of Judas kissing Jesus for identification purposes for the guards, which led to Jesus' death. The Mafia, especially in the movies, popularized the idea where a kiss from the Don meant certain death.
Just a few more things and we will all become experts on everything that has to do with kissing. Other words for kissing include: osculating, philemating, and the very British snogging. The average person spends two weeks of their life kissing, burning 26 calories per minute. The longest kiss recorded was 29 hours by a couple in New York on March 24th (and 25th), 1998. The most kisses in one movie occurred in the 1927 movie Don Juan with 127 kisses between actor John Barrymore and actresses Mary Astor and Estelle Taylor. Last but not least, some kissing crimes: in Hartford, Connecticut its illegal for a married couple to kiss on Sundays; in Indiana its illegal for a mustachioed man to “habitually kiss human beings”; and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, it’s a crime to kiss a stranger.
Kissing is a major part of today’s culture, all around the world, from the xoxo’s we sign at the bottom of letters to the kiss of death. Many people kiss on a daily basis, with friends, families, lovers, or a combination of those. Kissing will always be popular, and as Ingrid Bergman said, “a kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”
9. “Kissing”, article by Diane Ackerman, from A Natural history of the Senses.
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