“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).
Now that’s a biblical injunction few Christians take seriously these days. Perhaps it’s something to ponder on National Handshake Day. The handshake, however, predates Paul’s admonition by several centuries.
According to some sources, shaking hands originated with the Greeks in the fifth century BC. Tradition has it that medieval knights and Roman soldiers grasped one another’s forearms in greeting to check for hidden daggers. A nonverbal “Look, Ma, no weapons.” Generally regarded as a peaceful gesture, handshaking remained the domain of males for centuries since women didn’t usually carry weapons and thus had no need for the cautionary greeting.
In many Catholic countries and Latin American cultures, the handshake evolved to incorporate the biblical kiss. If you’ve not grown up or lived in a culture that practices the handshake-kiss greeting, the logistics can be challenging. In nearly a decade of living in Florida, where such a welcome is more popular than in the Midwest, I never mastered the technique or became comfortable initiating the move. I’m more than happy to transition from a handshake into a hug—especially for close friends. The logistics are much easier and demand less understanding of body language. The kiss raises so many questions—one kiss or two? Which cheek to start with? There are nearly as many variations on the kiss greeting as the handshake today
The handshake as a friendly form of greeting is often traced to the 17th-century Quakers. They felt a simple handclasp more equitable than bowing or tipping one’s hat. By the 1800s, it was a common form of greeting, and etiquette manuals provided instruction on how to properly shake hands. A firm grip, but not overly strong or too long was recommended. My Grandpa Herm had apparently never read any such manual. Even if he had, it likely wouldn’t have changed his approach.
Grampa Herm had retired from blacksmithing by the time I was born, but neither retirement nor age had diminished his smithy’s grip. A genial man, he took great delight in greeting old friends and new with a hearty handshake. And by hearty I mean a knuckle-crushing, bone-crunching handhold. Nothing seemed to give him more pleasure than watching an unsuspecting “victim” pale and wince in the throes of his grip.
I don’t believe he intended his greeting to be malicious. Rather, I think it was his way of reminding people that been a man who had worked with his hands, who knew how to heat a piece of metal to just the right temperature to shape it into a horseshoe or a hitch. A man who knew the demands and rewards of physical labor.
Today, I suspect most of his acquaintances would be quick to swap a handshake for a fist bump or any one of the other variations on a handshake that are part of the culture. Even within professional circles, where a firm clasp of another’s right hand while making eye contact and announcing your name has been considered the polite, professional greeting for years, the fist bump is gaining respect. To me, it conveys a familiarity that may not be appropriate for a first greeting, but among friends—a fist bump, a high five, a hug, a holy kiss—a gesture that conveys pleasure at seeing someone is always appropriate Click To Tweet.
In an era where we’re more isolated behind the façade of social media, our face-to-face greetings ought to be warm and genuine. Extend the right hand of fellowship to someone you care about today. Click To Tweet