Since its creation, National Hug Day (sometimes called National Hugging Day instead) has become a minor but amusing holiday in America - but when is it, exactly, and how can you celebrate it without getting arrested for unwanted physical contact? Don't worry, because we have all the information you need.

A Brief History Of National Hug Day

two little girls hugging and smiling

This holiday first started in 1986 when a resident of the US named Kevin Zaborney came up with the idea of a holiday to promote the expression of feelings in public. It was first celebrated on January 21, which Zaborney chose because it was between the Christmas/New Year Holidays and Valentine's Day when people were often in lower spirits.

One of the key drivers behind this holiday was a sense that Americans were becoming increasingly embarrassed to show their feelings in public - and to some extent, that's true. As children, we're taught to avoid them. In fact, there are educational sessions showing teachers how to put a stop to public displays of affection, and many children form the connection that because some forms of PDAs are bad, all of them are.

National Hug Day is an attempt to reverse this or to at least mitigate the worst effects of these lessons. Nobody is suggesting that everyone should go for a heavy make-out session, but mild displays of affection, such as hugs, ought to be permitted.

What Are The Benefits Of Hugging?

two ladies hugging

Hugs are a surprisingly powerful way to affect another person - in fact, they have objectively verified health benefits. As discussed by Reader's Digest behind that link, here are some of the major benefits of giving (and getting) hugs.

Benefit #1: Reduction In Illness

Studies have found that adults who get more hugs are also less likely to come down with colds. The main driver of this is reduced stress (discussed more below), which bolsters the body's immune system and helps it handle problems like infections.

Benefit #2: Reduced Stress

Hugs are a great way of reducing stress - that's why we give them to kids before they go see a doctor. A tight hug can also provide benefits before other situations, like giving a major presentation at work or going on a trip. The lingering feelings of comfort and security can stop you from worrying and physically relax your body.

Benefit #3: Improved Self-Esteem

As humans, we like being touched. This is hard-wired into most of our brains thanks to the way children are raised. When we're held by our parents as children, we feel safe, and we never really stop forgetting that. (In fact, this is thought by some to be the main reason hugs have such a positive effect on people.)

When we really feel that other people care about us, our self-esteem goes up and we can become more confident in our day-to-day lives.

Benefit #4: Hugs Improve Trust

Hugs release oxytocin - a chemical in the brain directly associated with feelings of trust towards a particular group. This, too, may be a lingering effect of the bonds we create as children - after all, we need to learn who our caretakers are. Imagine trying to raise a baby who saw you as a threat every time you approached - crazy, right?

The release of oxytocin has a ripple effect that can create physical effects like reduced blood pressure and a more relaxed heartbeat. This relaxation reinforces a sense of trust and safety when hugging.

Benefit #5: Reduced Depression

As a natural extension of its other effects, hugging is known to reduce depression. When we create feelings of trust and intimacy with others, the worst effects of depression tend to slink away. The lack of physical connections is one of the reasons that isolated people tend to be lonelier and more depressed than their socially-active counterparts.

Benefit #6: It Helps People Survive

You wouldn't think a simple hug would mean this much, but it does. Humans and animals who can't enjoy the touch of others may become depressed enough to simply waste away. Often referred to as a "failure to thrive," the only real way to combat it is to associate hugs with good feelings - and that means a lot more hugs.

Benefit #7: Hugs Help To Reinforce Relationships

Many people often take their partner for granted - but something as simple as a few hugs per day can reaffirm a relationship and make it easier to get through the rough times. The more you trust each other, the more likely you are to consider the other person's point of view and act in ways that make both of you happy.

How To Celebrate National Hug Day

8 friends celebrating national hug day

Now that you know about the history and benefits, let's take a look at what you can do to celebrate National Hug Day... without freaking anybody out.

Method #1: Attend The Celebration

The official website for this holiday (nationalhuggingday.com) hosts information on the annual highlight event. This event often includes the founder of the holiday, as well as a variety of guests and speakers who are experts in the art, medical aspects, and social impact of hugging. The exact location of the celebration may vary from year to year, but it's always held on January 21st.

Method #2: Celebrate It In Public

No, we don't mean just hugging the person you care about - though that's a part of it!

Instead, try setting up a kind of "hugging station" in a place many people visit, such as a shopping mall or city center area. There are two schools of thought on this. First is the "active" plan, where people are encouraged to come over and get a hug. This often involves plenty of signs and a designated area to show people where they should go.

(For safety reasons, keep your valuables somewhere safe - as great as hugs are, there's always the chance someone will try to pick your pockets. Safety comes first - always.)

The alternative public celebration involves encouraging other people to hug. This may resemble the active stations, but instead of calling people over, the idea is to encourage families and lovers to hug each other as they walk past.

You may need to adjust your station based on the members of your group and where you're allowed to set up. For example, a single male setting up an active hugging station outside a lingerie store is probably going to get questioned by security - and told to leave. On the other hand, a mixed-gender group near the center of a mall is more likely to be tolerated.

Regardless of where you set up, make sure you get permission first. This is most likely to involve the property owners or the local government. If there's a security detail in the area, contact them 48 hours before you set up to remind them where you'll be, what you'll be doing, who will be there, and who permitted you to do it.

Method #3: The All-In Extravaganza

If you really want to have an impact, you can turn National Hug Day into a type of carnival where groups are encouraged to visit a series of hugging stations and hug in front of each of them. When they do, they should get a stamp on a card (or something similar) showing that they've been there, and those who get stamps can earn an increasing discount at local stores (or another relevant prize, depending).

The idea of the all-in extravaganza is simple - it's designed to associate the idea of "more hugs" with the idea of "more rewards." For example, 1 hug station might give them a 5% discount, but 5 hug stations could give them a 20% discount instead. Having each station provide a reward gives a feeling of constant pleasure, making it easier for people to complete the circuit.

The downside to this method is that it takes far more coordination than any of the other strategies. You'll need materials to construct the stations, people willing to staff them, supplies for the stamps and cards, and support from local businesses and other groups. You'll also want to advertise the event, preferably starting right after Christmas so people aren't distracted by that holiday.

Method #4: The Family Hugs

The three methods described above are all about getting out and encouraging hugs among people you don't know - but they aren't right for everyone. Perhaps you're not that social, or you're not able to plan and prepare a big event.

If so, that's fine. Not everyone is in a position to run a major celebration, and you don't need to make a big deal of National Hug Day unless you want to. For a milder way of celebrating, try to give the members of your family at least six hugs over the course of the day. No complications, no worries, no registering or organizing - that's all there is to it.