January 21 is National Hugging Day in the United States. It's one of those special occasions that Americans dream up, like National Eggplant Day and Stay Out of the Sun Day.

Often a business enterprise lurks behind these celebrations, just as candy-makers and florists dreamed up Sweetest Day in October as another excuse to buy flowers and chocolates.

But a hug doesn't cost a penny. It's said to be therapeutic, stress-reducing, mutually satisfying. It isn't taxable. It doesn't pollute. And it's not the least bit fattening. One hugging authority insists hugs help the immune system, presumably by happily spreading germs. Another fellow on the Internet offers VIRTUAL hugs to anyone who writes him.

On the Web, you also get hug poems, like Jill Wolf's:

"Hugs don't need new equipment.
Special batteries or parts.
Just open up your arms
And open up your hearts."

Naturally, there's a book called The Art of Hugging. It addresses hugging's "how to's" - like how long should you hug?or how close?

Besides the familiar bear hug, there's the group hug, the cheek-to-cheek hug, and something called the A-frame hug. That's the ginger embrace from a polite distance -- you know, the one where you lean way forward to minimize contact. It's perfect for distant relatives.

Now it's true, a few people, like loggers and hunters, don't like a good hug. They're always complaining about "tree huggers." But we know what these grouches need, don't we?

And the 21st is the day for it: a big, warm hug...and a hearty "Happy National Hugging Day."