The Purpose and Importance of Grandparents Day

Playful grandfather and granddaughter on swing at playground laughing together
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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.

Purpose

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. 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.

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  1. Greeting Card Association. Facts & Stats 2019. Published September 25, 2019.