Wednesday is National Hug Day.
Chances are, you've never heard of National Hug Day, which is not even an official holiday, unless you're a member or friend of the Italic Institute of America, an organization that promotes the many contributions of Italians to the United States.
But the Italic Institute loves to celebrate National Hug Day -- they made it up -- and not just just because Italians are a hugging kind of people, though they are.
Wednesday is National Hug Day because March 31 is the birthday of the late, great Italian-American Leo Buscaglia, aka Dr. Love.
The man who all but invented the group hug.
Throughout the 1980s, you almost couldn't watch a public television station, such as WTTW, without seeing Buscaglia. He was a pioneer among TV motivational speakers, lecturing brilliantly, humorously and lovingly -- always lovingly -- on the need for people to make human connections with other people, to find a meaning in life beyond work and material things.
When Buscaglia gave live lectures, peopled lined up to get books signed and, more importantly, to get a hug.
"Buscaglia made America a kinder, gentler nation," Bill Dal Cerro, president of the Italic Institute of America, told me, and I'm inclined to agree.
"He made it OK for Americans to show affection toward each other without embarrassment," Dal Cerro said. "You see it all the time now -- athletes hugging each other, even a U.S. president who likes to reach out and touch. But such public displays of warmth weren't always the norm. Buscaglia brought that wonderful Italian gift of instant intimacy to the public."
This is not all good. Some people dole out fake hugs like limp handshakes to every distant acquaintance and stranger. They devalue the hug.
But better too much hugging than too little.
Last Sunday night, I was watching the TV mini-series "Pacific" about World War II, and couldn't help but feel sorry for an America before Leo Buscaglia came along. At a train station, a young soldier turned to his father to say goodbye, both men knowing this could be the last time they ever saw each other. So what did they do?
"Give your kid a hug," I yelled at the screen.
One way or another, I bet I got that from Leo.
Group hug, everybody.
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