Sealed with a Kiss

It is customary in our culture for a newly married couple to exchange a kiss at the conclusion of their wedding ceremony.

Some believe that the kiss symbolizes the exchange of souls between the bride and the groom, fulfilling the Biblical scripture that “the two shall become one flesh.”

Philematologists, scientists who study the anatomy and evolutionary aspect of humans, reason that the kiss may have developed by accident – a couple rubbing noses probably slipped and discovered the thrill of lips touching lips.

No one may know when the custom of kissing started. Paris, Prince of Troy, precipitated the 10-year Trojan War when he dared to kiss Menelaus’s wife and became so enthralled by Helen that he had her for his own.

Cleopatra’s kisses have been famous for centuries – historians say they destroyed Mark Anthony and probably sealed the sorry fate of Rome.

Literary evidence for kissing dates back to around 1500 B.C. from India’s Vedic Sanskrit texts, the foundations of the Hindu religion. The word “kiss” is not mentioned, but there are references to “licking,” and “drinking moisture of the lips,” 

A Babylonian creation story known as the Enuma Elish, recorded on stone tablets in the seventh century B.C., contains several kisses in greeting and supplication.

The kiss also figures prominently in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament’s “Song of Songs.”  This extravagant celebration of the union of bride and groom begins “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.”

The familiar words in Christian ceremonies,"… therefore, what God has joined together, let not man put asunder," which comes from the Bible in Matthew 19:6.  However, the words, "You may kiss the bride" have a mixed origin.

The kiss has been a solemn part of the wedding ceremony since the days of the Roman Empire, whereby the exchange of a kiss signified the completion of a contract. It was assumed that the bride and groom would not have previously exchanged a first this kiss at their wedding ceremony would have been their first kiss. 

It was the custom then to hold a betrothal ceremony in which the bride and groom kissed and joined right hands, after which the woman received a ring; the kiss was a legal bond. In fact, the kiss was the only legal bond – and if one of the engaged pair died before the wedding, the other would keep the presents only if the two had already kissed. 

In ancient Rome, it was expected that when people reached an agreement, they kissed to legally seal the contract. This practice extended to marriages as well (which were a form of contracts) and it has remained until today.

In medieval times, there were a lot of illiterate people. Whenever they needed to sign a contract, they would write an “X” on the paper, then “kiss it” as a way to signify that they've sealed the contract. Thus the phrase “sealed with a kiss.”

Interestingly, the mark of an “X” is used today to signify a kiss when people text one another. Valentine’s Day cards are sent to lovers and kids signed by the sender followed by one or more “X’s” for kisses and also “Os” for hugs.

Some faiths/religions don’t even approve of the nuptial embrace. Today there even couples who wait until their wedding ceremony to have their first kiss.  Interestingly, guests at these weddings say they experienced a palpable aura of holiness and purity. There is something to be said for waiting until the wedding day for that first kiss. Of course, this also means the couple has placed other intimacies on the back burner.

Kisses are not required for marriage ceremonies, and many cultures have flourished without a single peck.  As marriage officiants we see the “Wedding Kiss” as a radiant moment when the bride’s lips meet the groom’s for the first time after we have had honor to pronounce them “husband and wife.”

Condensed from The Bride by Barbara Tober, Published 1984


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