It’s often said that in Brazil we have a holiday for everything. So how we could miss the opportunity to celebrate - in addition to Mother's, Father's or Family Day - Grandparents' Day? Last week - July 26th - was (International) Grandparents’ Day. It is generally understood here that the day is an occasion for honouring grandparents for all the consideration and affection they give to their grandchildren and their families. This is why it is common practice to give gifts or make tributes – and nowadays many of the tributes are posted on social media.
Grandparents' Day was inaugurated at the end of the 80's in Portugal and was also soon after adopted by Brazil. The 26th July was chosen because it is the feast day of Saint Anna and Saint Joachim, who according to Roman Catholic tradition are the grandparents of Jesus. On January 31 this year, Pope Francis officially instituted the World Day for Grandparents and Elderly, also choosing the day in the liturgical calendar that commemorates SS Joachim and Anna. Although there are many other countries that celebrate their ‘own’ Grandparents' Day, often on quite another date, though sometimes also on 26th July (as in Spain), it seems to me that Grandparents' Day has become quite an important symbolic event in Brazilian territory. But why?
There is a Brazilian saying that: “Grandparents are parents twice”, meaning that they are responsible for helping (and indulging) their grandchildren in whatever way they can. This is why in the Brazilian popular imagination grandparents are considered as “second” parents. As in many other countries, there is an increasing number of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren in the country, reaching, according to the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), more than 1.7 million grandchildren and great-grandchildren raised by grandparents and great-grandparents. Brazilian grandparents seem to have acquired a significant position of authority in the family, not least because their retirement pensions provide the main source of income for many families. Whatever authority or position they have in the family hierarchy by virtue of being “second” parents has been reinforced by financial dependency in their children and grandchildren.
The activities and responsibilities that go along with being a grandparent in contemporary Brazil are different from those considered traditional for grandparents: bridging the gap between past and present, assuming the transmission family history, values and cultural heritage. What we see now is the assumption of new responsibilities that bring them closer to the social world inhabited by the current generation of grandchildren. Today's grandparents supervise school performance; help with household chores and homework; take grandchildren to school and pick them up at the end of the day; guide their behaviour, manners and relationships with peers. And this educational role is often on top of regular care or standing in more fully for parents. Interestingly, research in the field suggests that grandparents seem to transition into the parental role with some ease. However, we cannot forget that the role that grandparents will assume in their families will certainly depend on a series of personal, family, economic, cultural and sociodemographic factors. Not to mention that the age of grandparents in Brazil is very heterogeneous, with a range between 30 and 110 years of age.
Nevertheless, we can say that the role of grandparents has been changing in Brazil, accumulating responsibilities akin to those of parents, and hence gaining more prominence in the contemporary family. The idea that today’s great-grandparents increasingly resemble grandparents in the past, as contemporary grandparents take on more of the responsibilities that used to belong mainly to parents seems to make sense in the Brazilian context. If this is a real trend, however, we should ask whether Brazilian grandparents actually want this new-found responsibility for the upbringing of their grandchildren. What role do parents play in this dynamic? And what about great-grandparents – what role do they end up with in the family?
However the roles of grandparents in the family may be changing, it has been persuasively argued that the support they give to their families is fundamental to the maintenance of values, solidarity and intergenerational relationships. The celebration of Grandparents' Day in Brazil, therefore, aims to recognize and honour their dedication towards their families. It is also regarded as an opportunity to promote intergenerational activities within the family and beyond it. In various regions of the country, some gerontology associations or educational institutions promote activities to commemorate the day, such as: outings, recreational and cultural activities, as well as intergenerational activities among the younger and older. Unfortunately, it looks as though the pandemic has caused these activities to be suspended for yet another year.
According to Marcel Solimeo interviewed on portal de notícia terra, Grandparents' Day is not yet of major significance from a commercial point of view, although we see mugs, jewellery and other personalized utensils for grandparents increasingly promoting the date, as well as several advertisements on social media. Certainly, it is widely accepted that gifts and tributes do not have to cost money in order to have real value. Hugs (perhaps more difficult during Covid-19 times), phone calls or video calls, letters, emails, a printed photograph or drawing from grandchildren are not seen as second-best gifts. Perhaps what really counts is the gesture that promotes interaction between generations in the family. So, even if this blog comes a little late, I still would like to offer here my wishes for Brazilian Happy Grandparents' Day for any readers who are grandparents!
About the Author
Emily Schuler is a Visiting Student at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She is currently a Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology at the Catholic University of Pernambuco with a Capes Scholarship (Coordination of Improvement in Higher Education of the Brazilian Education Ministry).
Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute
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