People thought I was crazy chuckles Charles Lansdorp remembering the reactions his industry peers gave to his Grandparents’ Day initiative. That was back in 1997. Now, shining a light on the needs of the elderly suffering emotionally through loneliness and isolation, it has become such a prescient subject.
At 60, Lansdorp can look back with pride and see his altruist belief is something we are all grappling with synchronising with as this global pandemic revives new feelings of compassion within us.
I suppose, when asking Lansdorp to pinpoint the epiphany that led him on his philanthropic mission, I was expecting a profound answer spurred by something personal that happened to him. But he gently lets me down using his warm, friendly tones, explaining the truth was more organic in its discovery.
For Lansdorp, the seeds of caring for the elderly were sown during his time as marketing manager for the Dutch flower industry. He would organise workshops with the idea of sharing flower and plant knowledge between generations. However, what he observed was the positive nature this activity gave to the young and old: working together and creating memories that last eternally.
Being half Italian too, this may also be another clue to Lansdorp’ drive to celebrate the strength of familial bonds and the importance of the elderly to society. He articulates, “Grandparents not only deserve to be cherished and loved; they have a message of experience. They are the ones who have endured hardships and made sacrifices so that we can live in comfort today.”
It took until 2004 for his idea of celebrating the value of the elderly to grow in his mind. And a chance meeting with fellow philanthropist and Dutch footballer Clarence Seedorf to get his plan rolling.
Inspired by Seedorf’s charity, Champions for Children, which aims to improve the lives of children in developing countries often using sport and education, Charles created the Felini Foundation, which aims to enhance communication between generations using art.
Now, as President of the Felini Foundation Lansdorp explains the motives, “In Europe, we need to bring the generations together. It is getting more and more important because most of the population in Europe is old. We have more and more grandparents, and the younger generation must stay in contact with the older generation. We believe that the older generation has a lot of experience, stories and love to share with the younger generation.”
Public holiday in Italy
By 2005, the strength of this message led the Italian government to adopt Grandparent’s Day, and la Festa dei Nonni has become an annual public holiday on the 2 October. Lansdorp says, “The symbol of love is the giving of flowers or plants to the elderly by the youngsters. This action may be a simple gesture of happiness, but the effect is incredibly precious to the grandparents.”
Since 2008, this date has been in the UK calendar. And, in 2019, the German state of Bavaria recognised the importance of celebrating Grandparent’s Day.
There is no end to Lansdorp’s talent for bringing people together in celebration of the elderly.
He takes inspiration from Pope Francis who says that old age is “a precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of every man and woman’s life, whatever their origins, background, or economic or social conditions.”
Lansdorp, together with floral arranger Paul Deckers and his team of florists met the Holy Father several times when decorating Saint Peter’s Square for the Easter Sunday Mass. The tradition began 35 years ago when a group of Dutch floral designers decked out St Peter’s Square with Dutch plants and flowers for the first time.
However, last year, with billions of people around the world in lockdown, the traditional Easter Celebrations in Saint Peter’s Square were replaced by a virtual Easter Sunday mass in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
What’s happened to the 20,000 white avalanche roses, which were due to cover St Peter’s Square? These blooms have been given as thank you gifts to all the doctors and nurses caring for the elderly while this devastating virus raged on.
Speaking of cancelled events, the 2020 MyPlant show in Milan was to be the next step for promoting Grandparent’s Day globally. But as we all know. The threat of COVID-19 put those plans to rest.
Looking to the future, Charles and his foundation will continue with the promotion that flowers and plants bring generations together at the newly scheduled MyPlant in February 2022.
Grandparent’s Day – How did it start?
The Festa dei Nonni, or Grandparent’s Day, was established in Italy in 1997 and legally recognised on 31 July 2005 as a holiday to emphasise the vital importance of grandparents with the family – and society.
A group of individuals, involved in the horticultural sector, first conceived this iconic celebration. They were Arturo Croci, editor of horticultural magazine Flortecnica, the late Franco Locatelli, President of Italy’s National Association of Flower Producers Unaflor, Valter Pironi, director of Minoprio’s horticultural college, Wim van Meeuwen, head of the Italian branch of the Flower Council of Holland, and Charles Lansdorp, Italy’s area manager for the Flower Council of Holland.
Thanks to the group’s drive and motivation, headed by the strong personality of Franco Locatelli, primary schools in Italy embraced the idea of children putting their artistic talents to the test in celebration of the inaugural Grandparent’s Day. More than 5,000 children participated in creating gifts for their grandparents, inspired by flowers in poetry or drawing.
The next year, in 1998, marked the establishment of a Grandparent’s Day Committee, including President Franco Locatelli, Arturo Croci, Wim Van Meeuwen, Charles Lansdorp and Roberto Alborghetti.
Six years later, this committee submitted their first official proposal to the Italian government about the importance of establishing a law recognising Grandparent’s ‘Day at the national level.
In the same year, the President of the Lombardy Region, Roberto Formigoni, chose the date of 2 October – the day on which the Catholic Church annually celebrates the guardian angels – as the official Grandparent’s’ Day.
Grandparent’s Day obtained official status from the Italian Parliament on 31 July 2005, as a national day to celebrate the importance of these family figures.
People around the world celebrate Grandparent’s Day in 2021
Germany (Bavaria) 1o October 2021 (second Sunday in October)
Italy 2 October 2021
Kenya 2 October 2021
The Netherlands 3 October 2021 (first Sunday in October)
Russia 28 October 2021
Spain 2 October 2021
The United Kingdom 3 October 2021 (first Sunday in October)
The United States 12 September 2021 (second Sunday in September)