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National Hugging Day: Anne Arundel residents talk about why hugs matter

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

Today, January 21 is “National Hugging Day”, if you didn’t know. The day was brainstormed in 1986 and copyrighted in 1989 by a man named Kevin Zaborney. Many hugs have ensued since—even in the midst of the pandemic. Some residents talked about giving and getting hugs at a local park today.

“I feel like if it is National Hugging Day, they should make it be known more,” said Rachel Labella, from Odenton. “This is the first time I’ve heard of it.”

Labella was with her friends, Nichole Freytes who is a county resident and Jian Hess, also from Odenton. They were together to let their dogs get some exercise at Towsers Branch Park on Thursday.

Giving or receiving a hug is such a common human sign of affection and kindness that it may be normal not to think much about it. But when asked, these women had definite views on why a hug, especially during a time of pandemic, can be so meaningful.

“Hugs are important because you actually feel the emotion of that person and feel the sincerity of it,” Hess said. “Hugging says ‘I appreciate you.’ It tells me ‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ (or) “Hey, I miss you.’ It says a lot of things.”

They said they are continuing to get regular hugs from family and friends—and their pets too—but hugs these days otherwise are fewer and farther between because of coronavirus.

Freytes’ family is Puerto Rican she said, and they normally display their love for each other through hugs. But even those simple acts of kindness among close family and friends have been reduced, because of the risk of accidentally transmitting the coronavirus.

“They are all about hugs,” Freytes said of her family. “That can’t happen anymore, so that’s very unfortunate.”

Now, ending interactions between them can end up being somewhat awkward, she explained.

“It’s just weird,” she said. “Now you just kind of stand there awkwardly—waving from afar.”

Labella agreed the social contact of a hug is often off limits now, except for the closest members of their inner circle.

“That really doesn’t happen now,” she said.

The women said they do get plenty of hugs yet from that inner circles though, and they also take time to give their pets hugs of affection as well.

“My mom is super huggy,” Labella said. “She’ll come over, and she can not leave without giving me like eight hugs goodbye.”

The men in their lives are also good huggers, they said, though they believed men tend to hug less than women.

Hugs have been around for ages, but the act of giving or receiving a hug, remains almost as mysterious as they are validating.

Some scientific studies indicate hugs are good for relationship health, finding “Hugs buffer against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict.”

Other studies have shown that hugs reduce cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone that has sometimes been associated with harming human health.

Hugs can be very memorable too. When asked, all the women said the hugs that were most memorable to them occurred when they had to give a difficult goodbye to a loved one.

“It’s the uncertainty of not knowing when you’re going to see them again,” Freytes said. “They’re etched in your memory because you don’t know when the next one is going to happen—or if it’s going to happen ever. I think that makes it really pop out in your mind.”

A time to hug more of our loved ones may be drawing nearer every day, with the advent of the coronavirus vaccines. Perhaps then we can again experience more benefits from this most endearing, tender, mysterious, mundane form of human affection.

There are some things the internet just can’t be coded to do. A hug is a one-of-a-kind expression wrapped up in a simple gesture.

“It’s human emotion,” Labella said. “It’s a language as-is.”