If you love your birthday, the thought of sitting at home by yourself instead of having a bash with all your best friends probably wouldn't have sounded ideal just a few weeks ago. However, during this time of social distancing, as a result of COVID-19, a lot of people are finding ways to make the best of that exact scenario.
"Ever since I turned 30 I've been trying to make my birthday a bigger occasion," Tyler Joe tells Refinery29. "Since I'm a photographer, this year I had the big idea to have my party in a huge photo studio, have a DJ, games, and a fun photo set going on at the same time so everyone can take pictures." Despite cancelling his original party, Joe is moving forward with a digital gathering for all his friends, and he’s not alone. Ahead, we talked to people whose birthdays are coming up about how they're getting creative with new ways to celebrate.
Include Friends You Couldn't Otherwise Invite
"I think what I'm going to do is make a Zoom account and just hang out Chatroulette style," Joe says. To get the word out about the Zoom blow out, he's sharing the invite on his Instagram account — by the way, he has over 82,000 followers. "It could be a shit show," he admits. "I have no idea because I can only imagine having more than 50 people in one video chat. But, I'm prepared."
Joe shares that he chose Zoom as the platform for his party because, unlike Google Hangouts and other video conferencing apps, it can support calls with hundreds of participants. That’s a good tip for anyone who’s planning their own virtual birthday celebration and wants every last one of their friends to come through. "What I expect is that five of my best, best friends will just be hanging out the whole time," Joe explains. "Then everyone else will probably just want to pop in, say 'what's up,' have a couple laughs, maybe we'll take a shot over the video chat, and then they'll probably leave. And that will just happen throughout the entire night."
Another approach to the Zoom party is to use it as a platform for a surprise. Invite a friend to what they think is a one-on-one video call and have a virtual surprise party waiting with all their loved ones.
The New York-based photographer isn't the only one who's throwing a big online bash this weekend. Bailey Greenspon, who lives in Toronto and is turning 30 on Saturday, says she's really looking forward to her Zoom party. "I just realised it's going to actually be bomb because all my best friends who live all over the world will be there," she tells us.
Get Dressed Up
Jaycie Hricak in Philadelphia, too, celebrated her 22nd with a virtual hang on Wednesday evening. After she and her boyfriend got dressed up to eat Chinese takeout at home, she hosted a Zoom gathering with 11 or so friends. "I've had a lot of people saying, 'you probably don’t remember 21, but I’m sure you’ll remember 22.'" Hricak shared.
Choose A Theme
Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, an activist and Baptist minister who lives in Manhattan, has been planning a way for her twins, Zane and Levi, to feel special on their sixth birthdays during these unprecedented times. "My goal is to make the celebration as fabulous as possible while holding however they are feeling about this totally unpredictable change of plans," Hambrick Ashcraft tells Refinery29.
That's why she's planning not one but two Zoom parties. The video chat parties will be back to back and have their own themes. "We like to allow our twins their individual personalities as much as possible," the mom of three explains. In this case, the kids "attending" were asked to wear or create something superhero-related and Cars- or rainbow-themed for the respective parties.
Send Out Invitations
To make it feel more like a typical birthday party, Hambrick Ashcraft also had her kids help make invitations. "Before NYC went into shelter-in-place, my husband rushed to the Village Paper Store to buy swag — including themed invitations they could address. The "place" on the invites says "computer" for Levi and "Zoom" for Zane.
Even if you don't have access to a paper supply store, you can still send out invites. In fact, Paperless Post now has a whole section of e-vites specifically made for virtual events.
Of course, no children's party would be complete without some activities. Hambrick Ashcraft says of her kids' parties, "There will be screen sharing for Kids Bop dances, a freeze dance portion, and time for everyone to share a birthday picture they will draw."
It's not just kids that might need activities to help celebrate during this time, though. It seems some structure is being welcomed across ages in this new party format. That’s why so many of the virtual partiers we spoke to for this story said they were planning on having "share screen" karaoke, dance parties, drinking games, and charades. It was Tyler Joe, however, who had the most original idea for his main activity.
"I still kind of want it to be interactive," he explains, thinking back to his original pre-pandemic photoshoot party idea. "Since I'm a photographer, I can't really shoot from home...So I think what I'm going to do is everyone that comes onto my video chat for my birthday, I'm going to try to do something with them for TikTok."
As lit as that sounds, you don't have to be a TikTok editing expert to celebrate or be celebrated in a fun way. In fact, you don't have to be tech-savvy at all. You could stand outside a loved one's home and sing "Happy Birthday" to them while still social distancing like Sarah Byrne and her family did for her grandmother's 95th birthday this week. Or you could help support small businesses during this critical time by sending your birthday bestie flowers from a local shop or cake from their favourite bakery.
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever. If you suspect you have the symptoms of COVID-19 you should call NHS 111 and stay indoors.