Getting married is one of the most momentous occasions in a person’s life. After months or even years of planning, you finally tie the knot with your partner in front of your closest friends and family. A wedding signifies the start of a new chapter, and the wedding kiss is often seen as the highlight of the ceremony. But do you actually have to kiss your partner at the altar? Let’s take a closer look at the history and significance behind the wedding kiss tradition.
What is the meaning behind the wedding kiss?
The wedding kiss has long been viewed as the pinnacle expression of love and commitment between two people joining their lives together. It seals the verbal contract made in the wedding vows and represents the first act of intimacy between newlyweds. Traditionally, a wedding officiant will conclude the ceremony by declaring the couple “husband and wife” and inviting them to “kiss the bride.” This act formalizes the union before witnesses.
The origins of the wedding kiss can be traced back thousands of years. In ancient Rome, a kiss was used as a legal bond to seal contracts, and wedding ceremonies were seen as a contractual agreement. The kiss represented a legal commitment just as signatures represent contractual relationships today. Ancient Jewish wedding ceremonies also included a kiss to symbolize the couple’s shared destiny. Later in England, the Christian church adopted the kiss as a critical part of the wedding ritual.
Today, the wedding kiss remains both a legal and symbolic act. It is often the most eagerly anticipated moment of the ceremony, as well as an opportunity for lasting wedding photos. The kiss signifies that the couple is joyfully embarking on a new life together. Sharing a first kiss in their married life is a beautiful, romantic way to begin a lifelong partnership.
Is the wedding kiss required?
While the wedding kiss is a longstanding tradition, it isn’t legally required. The main portions of a wedding ceremony that are necessary to make a union official are the exchange of vows and the pronouncement of marriage by an officiant. As long as you obtain a marriage license from your county clerk’s office and have a ceremony conducted by an officiant, you are officially married.
With that said, the wedding kiss is an ingrained ritual that most marrying couples happily conform to. The majority of wedding ceremonies, regardless of religion or culture, will include some version of a kiss to celebrate the union. Omitting a kiss would be bucking tradition in a significant way.
Some couples may opt not to kiss for cultural reasons. Others may feel shy or uncomfortable with a public kiss. But for most, sealing their commitment with a joyful kiss for all to see is an essential part of the celebration and experience of getting married.
When does the wedding kiss take place?
The wedding kiss traditionally occurs immediately after the marriage pronouncement and the presentation of the couple. The officiant will say phrases along the lines of:
- “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
- “You may kiss the bride.”
- “I present to you the newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. [last name]!”
On the officiant’s invitation to “kiss the bride,” the newly married couple will share a kiss to cheers and applause from wedding guests. In some ceremonies, the officiant may invite both partners to kiss by saying something like, “You may now kiss your groom.” Same-sex couples may also be pronounced “spouses” instead of husband and wife.
This traditional moment provides the best photo opportunity for wedding photographers to capture the big first kiss. Some couples choose to have a brief one to two second semi-staged kiss solely for optimal wedding photos at this point.
The couple will then kiss again, longer and more intimately, once they have been announced and start walking back down the aisle together hand-in-hand. This private moment allows the focus to be completely on their joy and excitement over the union.
Do you have to have a long kiss?
Wedding kisses can range from short and sweet pecks to much longer, dramatic kisses. While your first public kiss as a married couple may only last a few seconds, you can keep on kissing as long as you wish once you are headed back down the aisle.
Some cultures, such as more conservative Christian denominations, tend to prefer brief kisses. A modest peck satisfies tradition without excessive public displays of affection. But there is no rule against a more passionate lip-lock if you both desire it!
The duration of the kiss is up to the personal preference of the couple. Though wedding guests and photographers hope to see a kiss, they don’t expect an unnecessarily long or over-the-top intimate kiss during the ceremony. Use the more private walk down the aisle to kiss to your heart’s content.
Do you have to kiss if one partner doesn’t want to?
Forcing anyone into an unwanted kiss would be unethical. If one partner feels uncomfortable with a wedding kiss for any reason, their wishes absolutely must be respected. A marriage should begin with mutual consent, not coercion or distress.
That said, since a wedding kiss is such an ingrained tradition, differing desires on this front would hopefully be communicated well in advance. If one partner did not even want a brief kiss at the altar, the couple would need to make alternate plans to accommodate both parties’ comfort levels.
An uncomfortable partner could suggest accepting a hug or cheek kiss instead. Or the couple could forego any affectionate gesture and simply depart down the aisle hand-in-hand. As long as both partners feel satisfied with the compromise, what matters most is celebrating your union in a way that makes you both happy.
Do you have to kiss if you’ve kissed before the wedding?
Prior kissing experience does not obligate a couple to kiss at their wedding! Some couples prefer to save their first kiss for each other for the wedding altar, as the ultimate representation of their new life together. But for many modern couples, a first kiss likely occurred early on in the relationship. They may have even lived together already before marriage.
If you fall into the latter category, there is no requirement to kiss simply because you have kissed before. Only kiss at your wedding if you both enthusiastically want to! Some couples may worry that skipping a kiss would reveal they lived together before marriage, which they prefer to keep private. But truly, wedding guests will not find it odd or even notice if you forego a wedding kiss after already being so intimate in your relationship.
As long as you are happy with your choice, neither decision is right or wrong. Let your specific relationship dynamic determine what feels most natural and meaningful for your ceremony.
Can you kiss before announced as married?
It used to be considered taboo for a couple to kiss before being officially announced as married. However, customs have loosened around sticking to the precise order of wedding ceremony traditions. Some couples now sneak in a quick kiss after exchanging vows but before the pronouncement.
This reflects the modern view that the couple is committing themselves to each other through the vows rather than the legal pronouncement. However, you may want to avoid a long kiss before the official words are spoken. Save any passionate embrace for after you are fully declared married!
The wedding officiant will usually not object to a premature kiss these days. But do advise your officiant ahead of time if you plan to kiss before the pronouncement so it does not startle or confuse them as they conduct the ceremony.
What’s the origin of “you may kiss the bride”?
The phrase instructing the groom to “kiss the bride” comes from old English and American colonial traditions. Because women were viewed as property, giving the bride away to her new husband was enacted through rituals like him lifting her veil and kissing her.
Today, many couples prefer their officiant use a more modern, egalitarian phrasing such as “you may now kiss” or inviting both partners to kiss. This better reflects contemporary sensibilities around equal partnership between spouses.
Some officiants do still announce “you may kiss the bride” if following very traditional formats. But updating the language around the kiss is recommended, even if other traditions like the father “giving away” the bride remain.
Alternative ways officiants invite the wedding kiss:
- “I now invite you to share your first kiss as a married couple.”
- “You may seal your marriage with a kiss.”
- “You may kiss your spouse.”
Who is supposed to initiate the wedding kiss?
Traditionally, the groom was expected to be the one to instigate the wedding kiss upon the pronouncement. But like the wording change around “kiss the bride,” contemporarily either partner may initiate, or they may mutually come together for the kiss. There are no rules around who has to take the first move!
Sometimes playfulness results from both partners waiting for the other one to start the kiss. Don’t worry about looking traditional – just let your emotions guide you in the moment. Lean in when it feels right for both people. Your spontaneous reaction will make for the most joyful, authentic photographs.
Do guests expect you to dip during the kiss?
A “dip kiss” refers to when the marrying couple dips into a low, dramatic bend while kissing at the altar. It evokes old black-and-white movie romance! But while a dip makes for a striking photograph, regular wedding guests do not expect or require the marrying couple to perform this maneuver.
Dipping expands the kissing moment significantly, which you may or may not feel comfortable with. Like other wedding traditions, what matters is what makes you and your partner most happy. Feel free to dip if you want a magnificent wedding photo, but don’t feel pressure to do so on anyone else’s behalf!
What if one partner drops the other during a dip?
Stories of wedding kiss dips gone wrong can make couples wary of attempting the smooching stunt! But if you ensure you have a good grip around each other and bend your knees properly, there is minimal risk of accidentally dropping your partner.
The most important preparation is communicating beforehand about how low you’ll go and when you’ll begin to straighten back up. Lean your heads opposite ways so your faces remain angled towards one another too. Practice a few times if you need to get the coordination down. This can prevent a collapse!
Above all, maintain a tight hold around your partner’s back the entire dip. Don’t let your grip loosen as you descend. Just go as low as you comfortably can, then smoothly rise back up to cheers from your admiring wedding guests.
Can you nod or verbally consent to the kiss instead?
If one partner does not feel comfortable with a full wedding kiss, alternatives like a subtle head nod or saying “Okay!” to symbolize agreement can work. This may especially make sense for couples who do not kiss regularly during their relationship.
However, a nod or verbal consent without an actual kiss may confuse guests who expect a wedding kiss tradition. If you plan to forgo a kiss, your officiant should explain the choice to guests beforehand so it does not come across as cold feet. Phrasing like “if the couple consents…” can help prepare attendees.
Consider compromising with a quick kiss or hug and then explain your cultural or individual preferences against kissing to your guests later. This will prevent any dampening of the celebratory spirit a full wedding kiss evokes.
Do parents or family expect to see the wedding kiss?
In most cultures where wedding kisses are standard, family members attending the ceremony absolutely anticipate seeing the couple kiss. For many parents, the wedding kiss milestone represents seeing their child completely grown up and starting a family of their own. It’s a hugely sentimental moment!
Family members often feel pride and cry tears of joy watching the couple kiss. Your parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. have been eagerly awaiting your wedding day for years, and the kiss seals the deal on your new union. Depriving them of that traditional moment could be disappointing.
If you plan to forego a kiss, be sensitive in explaining your reasoning to family ahead of time. They will want to understand and support your decision. With proper communication, family will be happy for you to craft whatever wedding ceremony you find most meaningful.
Do you have to kiss with a veil on?
It’s perfectly acceptable to lift your veil before kissing your partner at the wedding. In fact, lifting the veil is a common romantic gesture for the groom to initiate right before the kiss. Photographers often time the shot to capture the veil going up and then the couple embracing.
If you want to leave your veil on for the ceremony, simply tilt the front up over your heads so your faces can meet unimpeded. You may need to angle more to the side depending on how much the veil sticks out in the front.
Your partner can help adjust the veil too so you don’t have to fumble with lifting it yourself during the big kiss moment. Don’t worry about coordinting – just focus on enjoying your wonderful first kiss as newlyweds!
Kissing your partner at your wedding is a time-honored ritual rich with meaning. But while the kiss remains a central tradition, you aren’t legally required to kiss or conform to etiquette rules around it. What matters most is that you and your partner feel comfortable and joyous as you are declared spouses. Personalize your wedding ceremony however you wish to make it a true celebration of your love.