Grandparents Day is said to have first been formally suggested in 1969, when 9-year-old Russell Capper sent a letter to the US President Richard Nixon advocating for a dedicated day for grandparents
Whatever you may call them: Aaji or Ajo, grandma and grandpa or papa and granny, your grandparents have a big share in giving you a happy childhood. Grandparents play a key role in teaching us to hold on to our culture, tradition, and family bonding. No matter how old they are, they always teach and inspire us. Hearing their life experiences and struggles is always fun and exciting. As the Church celebrates the feast of the grandparents of Jesus, Sts Anne and Joachim, it is a reminder of the sacrifices and love bestowed on us by our grandparents.
The word grandparent was first used in the 19th century, where ‘grand’ is used to highlight "a generation older than your parents." Grandparents Day is said to have first been formally suggested in 1969, when 9-year-old Russell Capper sent a letter to the US President Richard Nixon advocating for a dedicated day for grandparents. Since 1970, the US began celebrating Grandparents Day. It has spread to numerous countries world-wide including Taiwan, S Africa, Singapore, Mexico, UK, Uruguay, Venezuela, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong, Honduras, Germany, France, Estonia, Costa Rica, Poland, India, Argentina, Ecuador, Columbia, Chile, Canada and Brazil.
In 2021, Pope Francis decided to institute a Church-wide celebration of a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly because grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on what the elderly have received. It will be held on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the liturgical memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.
Recalling the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – when the elderly Simeon and Anna encountered the child Jesus and recognised Him as the Messiah – Pope Francis said that the Holy Spirit even today stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly. The voice of the elderly is precious because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the people.
The elderly, he continued, remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life. There are three distinct purposes to celebrate this day: to honour grandparents; to give 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.
This day was created to honour the beautiful relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, as well as to give grandparents an opportunity to share their love with their grandchildren while helping them realise their strength, guide them, and provide them with essential information. Grandparents are the precious pillars of our family, and their role in each of our lives is unique and irreplaceable. They shower their children and grandchildren with unending love and gifts. The favour is returned on this day, as grandparents are honoured and thanked for their strength, kindness, nurturing, and wisdom. If you are fortunate enough to still have grandparents, pay them a visit, cherish them, and celebrate this day with them while you can.
How to celebrate this day?
In today's world, grandparents can feel lonely and long to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Many families prefer to celebrate Grandparents Day with family gatherings. These do not have to be elaborate; the important thing is to choose activities that the grandparent enjoys and to foster intergenerational connection.
Spend a few minutes to sit and talk with them as they need you now. Make sure you don’t make them feel alone and separated. Talk of those memories of your childhood. Be patient with them and hear them when they speak.
They will be most pleased if you can share a simple meal and spend time with the grandparents. Playing games from their era, such as board games, card games, and puzzles, are enjoyable low-key pastimes. Grandparents Day is also an excellent opportunity to share family stories and look through old photographs. Sit down with them and the family album which is a source of all those wonderful childhood memories.
If you live abroad, the day is a great excuse to call, text, Skype, or Zoom with them, or even write them a letter or have the grandchildren draw them some pictures. You could also send them a card with a message telling them how much you miss them or thanking them for the food they prepared for you. One of the personal ways to make grandparents happy on this special day is with this simple surprise.
It is an ideal opportunity for grandparents to share their hobbies and interests with their grandchildren. Perhaps you could invite your grandchild to participate in their favourite activity with you, or show them what you enjoy. Look for this day to enjoy each other's company, whatever you are able to do, whether it is baking a cake or cookies.
A walk or drive with your grandchildren is not only a fun way to spend time with them, but it is also a healthy activity for the entire family. Educate them about the natural world so that they will understand the importance of keeping the environment clean and green. Plan your route ahead of time so you know where you're going, whether it's to the village, the beach, or a walk through a local park.
The message is loud and clear: “Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” — Alex Haley.
(The author is Scientist who writes on science, social, and cultural issues)