Those long days of anticipation are behind us now. National Hugging Day, the third in what originator Kevin Zaborney hopes is an infinite series, is arriving this week. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t know how to comport yourself? Well, some schools in the know will be electing Hugging Kings and Queens and staging Hugathons. But such frivolity, while absolutely true to the spirit of National Hugging Day, may prove less feasible on public transportation, in stock exchange pits or in your boss’s office if this is your first day on the job.
Zaborney, a 24-year-old juvenile delinquents’ treatment specialist at Boysville in Mount Morris, Mich., dreamed up National Hugging Day in 1986, while grappling with what he considers a lamentable sociological fact: “American society is embarrassed to show feelings in public.” Zaborney “wanted to help bring things around” and hit upon having a day devoted to public displays of affection. What a happy coincidence that the huggable woman in Zaborney’s life at the time was Monica Moeller, whose grandparents, William and Helen Chase, put out Chase’s Annual Events every year. Zaborney chose Jan. 21 because it falls roughly midway between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, when he figures people are at an emotional low. The Chases incorporated Hugging Day right in with Umpire Appreciation Day, International Lefthanders Day and another Zabornagain notion, National Whiners’ Day (Dec. 26, when all those gifts are returned).
In the past two years, Zaborney, who was a psychology major, natch, at the University of Michigan at Flint, has gotten letters from thousands of fans. Kids send construction-paper hearts, Leo (Dr. Love) Buscaglia sent his regards, and Joan Rivers said she wanted to change her “Can we talk?” trademark to “Can we hug?” for the day. Hugging Day has also touched close to home. Now even Zaborney’s dad, a health inspector, “who was always pretty reserved, really gives me a hug when he sees me,” says his son.
As it happens, Zaborney may feel a certain emptiness between his outstretched arms this Saturday. Moeller has married someone else, and Kevin has no new significant hugger. “I’m looking for someone embraceable,” he says. For others like him who will be solo on this Hugging Day, Zaborney has an important bit of advice: “Ask before you hug.”