A Flemish grandmother embraces a child in Belgium in 1917.
Dates of the photographs in this gallery have been included when possible and match the information available in National Geographic's photographic archives. Many dates for these archived photos are unknown.
Grandparents play a special role in their grandchildren’s lives—as bestowers of life lessons, personal values, family traditions, and unconditional love. Whether they are helping their own children parent or have taken on the role of full-time caretakers, grandparents nurture their grandchildren emotionally, physically, and socially.
Marian McQuade, a native West Virginian, appreciated the importance of these elders and their vital role in families. In the 1970s, she began campaigning for a designated day to honor grandparents. McQuade worked to raise awareness around the value and support of senior citizens, and West Virginia became the first state to celebrate Grandparents Day in 1973. Finally, through her persistence, President Jimmy Carter declared in 1978 that the first Sunday after Labor Day would be officially recognized as National Grandparents Day.
The day has since been adopted internationally, with celebrations in Australia, Poland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many other countries, but the date of each holiday varies. For instance, in the United Kingdom, it is observed on the first Sunday in October, and Poland recognizes grandmothers and grandfathers separately—on January 21 and January 22, respectively. (Related: Meet the Kickboxing Grandmothers of Korogocho)
To honor these deserving grandmas and grandpas, nanas and papas, abuelas and abuelos, grand-mères and grand-pères, NaiNai and Yéyé, we’ve pulled together touching photos from the National Geographic archive of elders around the world.