Red Cross sells Christmas hugs to help lonely Swedes

Amid the gingerbread and stocking stuffers, Swedish Christmas shoppers this year can also buy a hug or two as part of a Red Cross campaign aimed at helping the lonely through the holiday season.

“We’re going to conduct this campaign across the country … We hope to have thousands of huggers,” Swedish Red Cross communications director Johan af Donner told AFP on Tuesday.

“Our idea is to break through the isolation felt by many people all over Sweden … We want people to feel close and connected for Christmas,” he said, adding that the aid organisation hoped to make 25 million kronor ($4 million) on its pre-holiday campaign.

The “Hugs for the Lonely” drive, which will run December 1st to 21st, is going national this year after a local Red Cross chapter in Västerås, west of Stockholm, made around 300,000 kronor selling embraces last year.

“I think this is something that is going to keep growing. In three to four years this could be huge,” af Donner said.

The campaign resembles a “Free Hugs” drive that catapulted to world fame after an Australian man appeared on the YouTube video-sharing site throwing his arms around strangers in central Sydney, but the Red Cross said it would charge 20 kronor for each of its hugs.

“Of course, people can give away a few hugs if they want to,” af Donner said, adding that the proceeds would help pay for the organisation’s work in Sweden, including paying visits to people who are lonely and in need of company, and for the recruitment of more volunteers.

“Christmas is a very difficult time for many people,” he said.