The holiday falls on Sunday, September 13 this year. Read this before you rush out to buy a cheesy card.
You know that Grandparents Day, taking place the Sunday after Labor Day every year, is a holiday for celebrating your parents’ parents. You might send them a card, or give them a call. But how did the holiday come to be? Did it originate out of a sweet, sincere desire to celebrate the young at heart… or was it all a giant marketing scheme to sell more stuff?
It is, in fact, the former. When West Virginia native Marian McQuade first thought of the idea for the holiday, commercialism was the last thing on her mind. In 1956, McQuade was trying to plan a celebration for the elderly members of her community. She made the sad discovery that many of the senior citizens in the nursing home didn’t often receive visits from their families. So she set out to designate a day to honor and appreciate grandparents. Here’s a tip–always follow your grandparents’ advice, unless you’re discussing these specific topics.
Thanks to a federal proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter, Grandparents Day became an official holiday in 1978. And it’s not actually just for grandparents. The National Grandparents Day Council says that it’s also “to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children.” In any case, McQuade never wanted the holiday to be a money grab. Mother’s Day actually has a similar story; in fact, its founder wanted it discontinued in the 1920s after she saw how commercialized it had become.
However, McQuade’s intentions didn’t stop card companies and florists from getting excited about the prospect of a new holiday. They set out to promote it as much as possible. In fact, Hallmark predicted that, by 1983, Grandparents Day would become the sixth highest card-selling holiday. But to their dismay, it never gained a ton of steam as a commercial holiday. Today, many other holidays outrank it for card sales: Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even St. Patrick’s Day. However, it’s definitely outpacing these totally wacky holidays.
Many families have much more meaningful ways of celebrating the holiday. Even if your grandparents live far away, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with them; just take it from this long-distance grandma. Danielle Kirsch of GreatCall celebrates by trying a new activity every year with her grandmother Elsie. “This year, we’ll be painting together,” she tells Reader’s Digest. Molly Arnold’s grandmother is no longer around, yet she still finds a beautiful way to honor the holiday. Arnold is the Chief Operations Officer of the Frank and Barbara Broyles Foundation, a charity she created in memory of her grandmother, Barbara Broyles, who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. According to Arnold, the experience “inspired [her family] to start the Broyles Foundation as a resource for caregivers, both family and professional, across the U.S.” These gifts are perfect for the grandparents in your life.
However, just because the holiday is not about the merchandise doesn’t mean you can’t exchange gifts.actually suggests that grandparents give their grandchildren gifts, especially gifts that “honor family traditions.” For instance, this tear-jerkingly meaningful gift from a grandpa to his granddaughter was actually a birthday gift, but we think it’s a perfect Grandparents Day idea.
Although it is not classified as a federal holiday, Grandparents Day is a national holiday or observance, celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Many people assume that Grandparents Day resulted from lobbying by florists, greeting card companies, and similar businesses. This idea could not be farther from the truth.
Grandparents Day is a day for celebrating the connections between the generations, and its origin was decidedly noncommercial. The holiday has remained fairly true to its roots. A few ways to celebrate include meals or shared activities like playing cards, going for a walk, or just visiting over a cup of tea.
Origins of Grandparents Day
The roots of Grandparents Day go back to 1956 and a West Virginia mother named Marian McQuade. While helping to organize a community celebration for those over 80, she became aware of the many nursing home residents who were forgotten by their families. She wanted a holiday to bring attention to these individuals and to honor all grandparents. In 1973, West Virginia became the first state to have such a day.
Although it might seem that the name of this day should be Grandparents’ Day, it is not. Unlike Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Grandparents Day does not use an apostrophe.
McQuade and other supporters of the holiday then shifted their efforts to the national level, achieving success in 1978. Today, Grandparents Day is celebrated annually in homes, retirement and nursing home facilities, and communities across the United States. Each year, the observance is proclaimed by the president as well.
The purpose of the holiday, as stated in the preamble to the statute, is “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”
Florists and greeting card companies were overjoyed by the creation of the holiday but it hasn’t panned out as a big gift- or card-giving holiday. Hallmark predicted that by 1983 Grandparents Day would be the sixth biggest holiday for greeting card sales.
However, according to the Greeting Card Association, Grandparents Day isn’t listed on the most popular occasions for greeting card sales, which is topped by Christmas, Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even St. Patrick’s Day.1 In the floral industry, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas continue to be the major sales generators. That probably would have made McQuade very happy.
According to the website of the National Grandparents Day Council, McQuade refused all royalties and donations associated with her efforts and spurned overtures from Hallmark.
That said, some families celebrate by giving gifts to grandparents. It is equally in keeping with the spirit of the holiday for grandparents to give gifts to their grandchildren, especially gifts that celebrate family traditions.
How to Celebrate
Today, many families celebrate Grandparents Day with family get-togethers. These need not be elaborate, the key is to choose activities that the grandparent enjoys and foster intergenerational connection.
Sharing a simple meal and time to visit will please most grandparents. Playing board games, card games, and puzzles are fun low-key amusements. Grandparents Day is also a great time to share some family stories or look at old pictures. If the family would like an outing, a few venues (mainly museums) host annual Grandparents Day celebrations.
Maybe the main reason that Grandparents Day has escaped commercial exploitation is holiday burnout. If that is the case, grandparents still shouldn’t let the occasion go by unnoticed. Most of the younger generation will be happy to participate if they don’t have to plan. Remember that one of the purposes of the holiday is to give grandparents a chance to show their love for their grandchildren.
If it doesn’t work out for you to see your grandchildren, Grandparents Day is a great excuse for you to phone them, text them, FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom with them, or even write them an old-fashioned letter or have your children draw them some pictures. Of course, you could also send them a card—a simple surprise in the mailbox is an easy, personal way to make a grandparent’s Grandparents Day special.
Have you ever stopped to think how important grandparents are? Our children’s grandparents can be the most wonderful resource, both to us as parents, and to our kids. Sometimes in all the hurly-burly of busy lives we can forget this fact. That’s why I like the idea of Grandparents Day. Many countries have this special day, including France, Australia, Germany, and Hong Kong. In the United States, it’s celebrated the first Sunday in September after Labor Day. The holiday is a great time to remind ourselves of what grandparents mean to us, and to celebrate with them.
Grandparents and Grandkids Have a Special Relationship
Grandmas and grandpas love to hear about our kids’ successes and milestones. Whether this event is as simple as a first word, first tooth, or twentieth gold star at school, you can rely on grandparents to take an interest. I love to encourage kids to contact their grandparents and let them know about such exciting events. It’s an excellent learning experience for children to visit, phone, write a letter, Skype, or record a video to send to Grandpa/Grandma. For grandparents who are far away, it helps them feel closer too.
Another thing I’ve noticed about grandparents is that they’re great at being a cheer squad. They think our kids are wonderful too, and adore to enter into children’s pride in their accomplishments. Grandparents excel at reading books aloud to kids. Thanks to modern technology, they can do this even if they are far away. Turn about is only fair! Kids who read aloud to grandparents are assured of an appreciative audience.
Thanking grandparents for their gifts and time is just good manners. But Grandparents Day might be a good time to sit down with kids and discuss how important and loved their grandparents are. Reflecting for a few moments on shared experiences and fun might be all the inspiration your kids need to let their grandparents know how they feel.
Your kids might choose to write a poem, a list, or a song. They might paint a portrait or create a gift. Whatever they do, I can guarantee it will be so much appreciated by Grandpa and Grandma.
Some schools have a special Grandparents Day event. This allows grandparents to visit classrooms and see their grandkids in this special environment. At my school we always combined this day with a Book Fair. Turns out, grandparents love to encourage reading and are great book buyers. But best of all, we found both children and grandparents benefited from the opportunity to get to know each other better. We always encouraged kids whose grandparents couldn’t attend to “borrow” a surrogate for the day. Grandparents were invited to share memories of their own school days, and everyone enjoyed a barbecue lunch together.
One thing children may not be aware of is the important roles grandparent play as volunteers in our communities. Some grandparents look after children so their parents can go to work. Others put in hours working for charities and non-profit organizations. Some grandmas read stories to children in libraries; some grandpas teach youngsters how to use tools to make things. Nobody pays them for their time — they take on these tasks as a way to show they care and to give back to the community.
Is there a Grandparents Day? Of course there is! And we’ve put together the comprehensive guide to all things Grandparents Day. When, how, where and every why. First things first, and in true Grandparent fashion, Grandparents Day isn’t traditionally celebrated with gifts, dinners or anything tangible. It’s more about spending quality time together and finding unique ways to thank grandparents for all they do for their families. Let’s get to it.
how did grandparents Day start?
Back in 1970, Marian McQuade, a West Virginia housewife, came up with the idea of setting a day aside to encourage families to visit their elderly relatives. Lobbying policymakers, McQuade got through to her Senators, Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd, who introduced a resolution to make Grandparents Day a national holiday.
It took a while to reach the White House, but finally, in 1978, the resolution declaring National Grandparents Day was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
While many people may dismiss the concept as just another made-up holiday—according to the National Day Calendar, Sunday is also National Teddy Bear Day, while National Pancake Day and National Coffee Day fall later this month—there’s never really a bad day to honor and show love for grandparents and celebrate the bonds between generations.
Here are a few facts about the holiday and official celebrations for this year.
How do we celebrate Grandparents Day?
While there are no official national celebrations or special events, the advocacy group Generation United has an action guide to help families connect this Grandparents Day. And if you #takeagrandie, the organization is holding a photo competition for the best intergenerational photo, complete with a mystery prize.
You can also check with your local Chamber of Commerce or area museums and civic organizations to see if they are sponsoring events. The Greater Powell Chamber of Commerce in Delaware, Ohio, for example, is promoting a free Grandparents Day event with activities for children and adults alike.
Meanwhile, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit has planned a day full of storytelling, music, and special museum exhibits. The Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh is offering free entry to grandparents who attend with their grandkids plus 20% off on membership.
A Google search turned up only two national deals: White Castle is offering $3 off its Castle Pack combo package meals. And at 1-800flowers, you get a free custom picture frame with your Grandparents Day flower or plant purchase.
Grandparents Day is not a “Hallmark Holiday”
Many characterize the day as just another Hallmark holiday, but as those things go, Grandparents Day doesn’t rank very highly. It not even cracking the top five, according to the company.
But Grandparents Day does have an official song
Yes, there’s a Grandparents Day song, though it’s not exactly official. A guy from Bad Axe, Mich. named Johnny Prill released A Song for Grandma and Grandpa in honor of the holiday in 2005.
Is it any good? You can judge for yourself: A Song for Grandma and Grandpa.
Other ideas to help you celebrate your Grandparents Day
5 Easy Grandparents Day Crafts
Looking for a fun way to spend Grandparents Day? Gather your grandkids and make one of these cute keepsakes together.
Grandparents Day Quotes
You’ll love this huge compilation of funny, heartwarming, and wise quotes about grandparents, grandmothers, and grandfathers
15 Fun Facts About Grandparents
Wow your family and impress your friends with this mind-bending collection of grandparenting trivia.
The Ultimate Guide to Grandparent Names
We have every name you can possibly think of, and then some. Pick yours!
7 Unbreakable Laws of Grandparenting
Columnist Barbara Graham shares the family rules that can keep you out of trouble.
8 Activities Kids Love to Do with Grandparents
When you’re a kid, there’s nothing better than learning something fun and new from your grandparents.
8 Famous People Raised by Grandparents
Grandparents didn’t just raise these actors, musicians, politicians, and writers – they gave them the tools to succeed.
8 great Grandparents Day activities
Try these fun ways to bond with your grandchildren as you celebrate the grandest day of the year!