Grandparents Day 2021: The history of the holiday

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are highly respected and commercialized holidays in the U.S., but without grandparents there would be no Mom and Dad.

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Luckily, there’s Grandparents Day to show them just how much they’re loved.

Grandparents Day is an annual holiday that falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day. That’s today.

Grandparents Day is said to have first been formally suggested in 1969, when 9-year-old Russell Capper sent a letter to President Richard Nixon advocating for a dedicated day for grandparents.

At the time, Rose Mary Woods was the personal secretary to the president, and she wrote a letter back to Capper:

Dear Russell,

Thank you for your letter to President Nixon. Your suggestion regarding a Grandparents Day is appreciated, but the President ordinarily issues proclamations designating periods for special observance only when a Congressional resolution authorizes him to do so.

With best wishes,


Rose Mary Woods, Personal Secretary to the President.

The next big push for a day of observance came in the 1970s when a West Virginian named Marian McQuade started a campaign to gain support for a day of recognition for grandparents.

While McQuade served on the West Virginia Commission on Aging and the Nursing Home Licensing Board, she reportedly petitioned for a holiday that would encourage families to visit their older family members in nursing homes. She said it was a good time for grandparents to tell children and families about history, their own experiences and their hopes and dreams for the future.

West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore proclaimed Grandparents Day an annual holiday in 1973.

Over the next few years, McQuade pressed for support across the country and contacted governors, senators and congressmen in all 50 states, urging them to make Grandparents Day a holiday. She succeeded, and 43 states proclaimed the holiday.

In 1977, Sen. Jennings Randolph introduced a resolution to the Senate for national observance of the day.

Congress passed the legislation, and President Jimmy Carter proclaimed National Grandparents Day in 1978. It was first celebrated in 1979.

Carter’s proclamation said, in part:

As we seek to strengthen the enduring values of the family, it is appropriate that we honor our grandparents.

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

I urge all Americans to take the time to honor their own grandparents or those in their community.

The day is a time for grandparents to be celebrated and for them to pass down history and wisdom to younger generations.

The holiday has three official purposes:

  1. To honor grandparents
  2. To give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children
  3. To help children become aware of strength, information and guidance older people can offer

Grandparents Day has an official flower and an official song chosen by the National Grandparents Day Council.

The flower is the forget-me-not.

Johnny Prill sings the official song, “A Song for Grandma and Grandpa.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, gathering with grandparents to honor them on their special day won’t be possible for everyone, but here are some things to do to show them they’re cared for:

  • Cook a meal together
  • Complete a puzzle or word search together
  • Work on an arts and crafts project together or make a gift and send it
  • Send a card with a thoughtful message
  • Call them or video chat them
  • Ask them to tell a story about their favorite memories
  • Ask them to tell a story about their childhood
  • Ask them about their firsts (first pet, first car, first job, first love)
  • Ask them for advice