Hand-kissing Tradition in Turkey

Hand-kissing could have various meanings in different cultures, but the hand-kissing tradition in Turkey is typically a sign of respect and love. Besides other cultures, in Turkey and some other Eastern cultures, people who kiss the hand typically took the hand to their foreheads. Kissing hands might not be unfamiliar to you even though you are from Western cultures, but the underlying meaning is quite different.

Hand-kissing tradition is quite old and has a great place in Turkish culture. Such that, you can see the traces of hand-kissing tradition in the everyday language and is a big part of religious holidays.

See also: Religion in Turkey

See also: Turkish Wedding

See also: Public Holidays in Turkey

What does hand-kissing mean in Turkey?

In Turkey, hand-kissing is a sign of respect and love. Usually, people kiss the hand of those who are older than them. Not kissing someone’s old’s hand in a context where you should kiss their hand is considered something wrong.

How does the hand kissed?

Hand-kissing could start with two ways, either you ask the person for permission to kiss their hand or they hand out your hands to you for you to kiss it. You need to gently hold their hands, and you need to bend down to their hand to kiss it. Pulling up the hand to your mouth level is not the optimal way to do it, since you do this as a sign of respect. Right after you kiss the hand, you need to take it to your forehead because pulling the hand to your forehead is a little bit inappropriate.

When does the hand kissed?

Usually, the hand is kissed when there is a gathering after a while, and on religious holidays. It is a widely applied tradition to kiss elderly people’s hands, as a sign of respect. Subsequently, it is a tradition for elderly people to give some money to the children after their hands had been kissed. Besides holidays, the hand of elderly people is also kissed occasionally.

History of hand-kissing

There is little information about how the hand-kissing first started, but it is known that this tradition was present from the first times of Islam. There are hearsays about the hand-kissing tradition that was present in the 7th century, which is the first year of Islam in the world.

It has been said that Ali bin Abu Talib, who was the caliph of the Islam world between the years 656-661, said something about the hand-kissing tradition, which is “the father kisses his child’s hand due to kindliness; the child kisses their father’s hand like a prayer, the husband kisses his wife’s hand due to desire, one kisses their coreligionist hand due to religion”.

There are some hearsays about people kissing the hand of Prophet Mohammad back then, yet some say that hand-kissing does not have a place in Islam. Mainly, this viewpoint, hand-kissing not having a place on Islam is because hand-kissing was present before Islam as well. The hand-kissing in the West, on the other hand, has not occurred until the 17th or 18th century.

Hand-kissing in Turkish idioms

A widely used tradition having a place in the culture’s language is not a surprise, and one can observe various idioms in Turkish including a phrase about or a reference to hand-kissing. A widely used idiom in Turkish is “may you have lots that also kiss your hand”. This is an idiom that typically comes from the person that you kiss the hand. This is a form of a good wish, meaning that they wish you to be someone respected and loved as you grow older, in addition to having children.

Another idiom in Turkish about hand-kissing is “kiss the hand that you cannot bend”. What this idiom tries to say is, if someone is stronger or has more knowledge from you about a topic, just accept it and show respect. You can see the meaning of respect hidden in this idiom.

Another idiom regarding hand-kissing tradition is “your lips will not be eroded when you kiss a hand”. This idiom means that if you accept that you are wrong or if you show respect to someone who deserves it, you will not lose your honor or worth.

Another idiom about hand-kissing is “to kiss something/someone and putting it to your head”. This idiom typically refers to something or someone valuable and needs to be appreciated. This idiom further supports the meaning behind the hand-kissing tradition, you only kiss something and put it to your hand that has value for you.

There is another idiom about hand-kissing tradition, which is “you should not bite the hand that you are going to kiss”. This idiom means that you should not be disrespectful to someone that you need to be showing respect.

Is hand-kissing widespread nowadays?

The answer is hand-kissing widespread nowadays according to the location you are talking about. If it is a relatively less urbanized area where traditions are valued then yes, but hand-kissing can be observed much less in those urbanized areas. But still, hand-kissing is typically considered as something normal in Turkey, in the proper context. People usually kiss elderly people’s hands on the religious holidays, if not on any other occasion.

Hand-kissing in Western cultures

Different from the tradition about hand-kissing in Turkey and Eastern cultures, hand-kissing in Western countries has another meaning rather than respect. Hand-kissing in Western cultures does not need to be necessarily in a specific context, it can even occur when you coincidentally meet with someone on the street, it is just a way of saying hi. Usually, a man kisses the hand of a woman. Sometimes it is used as a way of flirting, or a sign of kindness as well.

Taking the hand, you kissed to your forehead is not a tradition that is seen in Western cultures. Instead, you just gently touch the hands of the person that is in front of you with your lips, and that is all. Today, hand-kissing in Western cultures is quite rare.

Frequently asked questions about hand-kissing tradition in Turkey

You might be strange to the concept of hand-kissing tradition in Turkey if you are not living here. The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about the hand-kissing tradition in Turkey.

Do I need to kiss the hand of elderly people?

This is not something genuinely expected, especially if you do not know them well. But everyone in the room is doing it and if you feel comfortable, you can do it as well.

In which other countries is the hand-kissing tradition widespread?

Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei can be listed among the countries in which hand-kissing tradition is widespread.

Is kissing the hand of someone younger than me a part of hand-kissing tradition?

No, the hand-kissing tradition is typically for those who are older than you.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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