Grandparents’ Day—Origins, Why Celebrate, How to Celebrate and “Do Something Grand”

Fast becoming another of our most beloved national observances, Grandparents’ Day was born out of the love and respect of then-9- year- old Russell Capper, who wrote a letter to President Nixon in 1969 asking him to dedicate a day for grandparents.  The letter response he received was penned by the President’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods, who explained that while the suggestion was appreciated, the President could not issue a proclamation for an observance without a resolution from Congress.  

The 2021 observance of Grandparents’ Day is September 12, due to the eventual legislation passed by Congress in 1978 and proclaimed by President Jimmy Carter, stating the first Sunday after Labor Day would be an annual observance, National Grandparents’ Day. The Day was first celebrated in 1979. 

It took “an act of Congress” and a 10-year push for the Declaration which began with Marian McQuade while she was serving on the West Virginia Commission on Aging and the Nursing Home Licensing Board. She petitioned for a holiday that would encourage families to visit their older family members in nursing homes.  She believed it would be an opportunity for grandparents to share their history and personal experiences as well as their hopes and dreams for the future of their families. 

 In 1973 West Virginia’s Governor Arch Moore proclaimed the state’s annual holiday.  McQuade continued to press for support throughout the country, contacting governors and congressmen in every state urging their commitment to older adults by making Grandparents’ Day a holiday in their state. Eventually 43 states proclaimed the holiday and by 1977 Senator Jennings Randolph introduced a resolution to the United States Senate calling for national observance of the day. 

Looking back to its origins, it was the love of a child 62 years ago that inspired a request to honor older family members, not only in his own family, but in other families as well. Next came a true advocate for older adults, who through her thoughtful observations and experiences working with others, sought to bring families together for mutual benefit.  What was the magic they both saw? It was then, and remains, the magic of connection, of relationship. 

How do we humans connect? Through getting together and sharing stories, “swapping yarns”, passing them down through generation after generation, sharing older traditions and creating new.  Traditions for Grandparents’ Day are a mere 52 years young, but as with all National observances, there they are, nevertheless!  Did you know there are three official purposes to this holiday? Number One, of course, is to honor grandparents, followed by giving grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information and guidance older people can offer. 

It’s worth noting certain excerpts from President Carter’s proclamation in 1978. 

Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past, to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us. Whether they are our own or surrogate grandparents who fill some of the gaps in our mobile society, our senior generation also provides our society a link to our national heritage and traditions.  We all know grandparents whose values transcend passing fads and pressures, and who possess the wisdom of distilled pain and joy.  Because they are usually free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations.” 

There is a National Grandparents Day Council which has chosen an official flower, Forget-Me-Not and an official song “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa.”  Northwest Indiana is such a melting pot of cultures that there are many names for “Grandma” and “Grandpa” in many different languages; often times, despite dwindling fluency in languages being passed down through generations, the affectionate terms for grandparents remain. Many other countries also celebrate grandparents, such as the UK, India, Brazil, Italy, Australia and more. 

What will we do this year to honor grandparents “in a grand way”? 2021 helps us appreciate we have more opportunities than in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions in full force.  Residences Senior Living, through our Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville and Residences at Coffee Creek in Chesterton, have both planned outdoor Carnivals from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., complete with  food, treats, and fun on Sunday September 12. There will be plenty of opportunity to talk about memories and to make new memories. 

Many families live in farther-away communities but there are new ways to do activities. Video-chats are great ways to start new traditions; for example, you could learn something new together. Make a card, send a card. Send flowers, too.  Photographs—very precious for grandparents to receive and there are so many ways you can use them to make keepsake items. 

What a surprise it would be if your grandparents’ home was to be decorated to celebrate the love on this special day! Write their stories in a journal, make a book and present them with this special keepsake—make one for your family, too.   Ask them about their “firsts” –car, pet, trip, day of school, team win, love—the list is endless! 

Grandparents’ Day should actually, like so many other holidays we enjoy, be celebrated EVERY day. Pause to think about the true inspiration for this grand national day. It was always about love, the need to receive it, the need to give it. Marian McQuade saw this need back in 1956 when she first visited nursing homes and the many lonely older adults who just needed to know that someone cared. There’s always someone you know who could use a helping hand, a soothing touch, a warm handshake.  There’s always a child such as Russell, who needs an opportunity to send love, receive love, and create a cherished relationship with an older adult. 

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