We have holidays for Mom and Dad, which makes perfect sense. We also have holidays celebrating political figures (Presidents’ Day), a 500-year-old naval explorer (Columbus Day), and a weather-predicting rodent (Groundhog’s Day). All get more press than a holiday we should be observing every September.
I’m referring, of course, to National Grandparents’ Day. And I'm not just saying this because I myself, am a Grandmother (or Nana as my Grandkids call me).
Grandparents’ Day falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day. It’s a great holiday because it wasn’t created to sell cards or flowers. It was initiated at the grassroots level by a woman named Marian McQuade. Born in 1917, McQuade saw the nation overcome the Great Depression, win World War II, end segregation, and land on the moon. Later in life, she would work for the generations of Americans who helped our country do all those things by caring for them in hospitals and nursing homes. In fact, she made caring for seniors her life’s calling, advocating for them at both the state and federal levels.
What McQuade wanted most, though, was a chance to educate youth about the contributions of seniors throughout history. She also urged young people to cherish their grandparents. Thanks to her efforts, President Carter signed a proclamation recognizing National Grandparents Day in 1978. The day’s purpose 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.”1
As Carter himself said in the proclamation:
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.1
I think it’s a shame Grandparents’ Day doesn’t get more attention. After all, what’s better than a good grandparent? When we’re sad, they give us a shoulder to cry on. When we’re scared, they give us two arms and a soothing whisper to comfort us. When we’re uncertain, they give us a lifetime’s experience to guide us. And in my case when Mom and Dad say no to that extra cookie or toy, Nana says yes! They’re the source of the best holiday meals, the best Christmas and/or Hanukkah presents, and the best parties. They are essentially the glue that holds families together.
Their love is selfless, pure, and never-ending.
To my knowledge, there are no standard Grandparents’ Day traditions. No parades or festivals, no cards or costumes. But maybe there doesn’t need to be. Maybe the fact it continues to fly under the radar is an opportunity to celebrate grandparents the way Marian McQuade always wanted. A chance to simply spend time as a family. To enjoy small, private gatherings. To put our arms around our grandparents and say, “I love you.” To reminisce about them after they’re gone. To teach our children to ask questions about their past to ensure their stories, their accomplishments, their lives are never forgotten.
This September, we celebrate our grandparents. It’s true, you won’t find Grandparents’ Day on many calendars. But maybe that’s okay. Because after all, whether our grandparents are still alive or have passed away, we can always find them in a much more important place.
We can find them in our hearts.