May 15, 2020
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How to celebrate a birthday in the time of COVID-19

Courtesy of Geoff Bell
Courtesy of Geoff Bell
A Zoom surprise birthday party for Geoff Bell, which was coordinated by his sister and girlfriend, is pictured.

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Celebrating your birthday during the coronavirus can seem logically impossible. Throwing a party is a no-go while practicing social distancing, self-isolation or self-quarantine. At times, too, it may feel inappropriate to celebrate at all.

But you shouldn’t feel guilty about celebrating responsibly.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

“Even though we’re in tough times right now, we still need to celebrate the little things,” said Courtney Altmaier, who celebrated her 30th birthday via Zoom conference this week. “It can seem frivolous and self-serving, but I think it’s another way to exercise our ability to be together when we can’t really be together. The more we can do that, the better off I think we’re all going to be.”

Over the past few weeks, though, some Mainers have gotten creative with how they celebrate their birthdays — and they have a few tips.

Use technology to connect, but have a plan

Video conference tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts are great tools for celebrating with friends and family in isolation around the country, or the world. If you are throwing a video chat party, though, make sure you have a plan for what you will do after everyone is on the line.

Portland-based Geoff Bell celebrated his birthday with a surprise Zoom party coordinated by his sister and girlfriend (which, for the record, he said he “seriously was genuinely surprised”).

“After the surprise, we weren’t really sure what to do next,” Bell laughed. “Having an idea of a game you can play or an icebreaker makes a lot of sense. My friends just kind of went through and told funny stories about me, which was super embarrassing, but definitely filled the void.”

Consider planning a video dinner party, or do as Altmaier and her friends are planning for their next Zoom party: tarot card readings.

When it comes to conversation, over video calls or otherwise, give people a chance to vent about their anxieties but in general, don’t make it all about the coronavirus. When in doubt, Altmaier suggested bringing your pets into the frame.

Bell agreed that it was important to keep video conference parties lively, especially with all the features that the technologies offer.

“Have fun with video backgrounds,” Bell said. “My friends all made their backgrounds different pictures of me and it was hilarious.”

Make a scavenger hunt

Kayla Willigar didn’t want her son, Ethan, to have a disappointing sixth birthday. She reached out to her son’s kindergarten teacher to coordinate with parents who lived in her neighborhood in the Tree Streets of Bangor to help plan a socially-distant scavenger hunt for Ethan’s birthday.

Willigar hid Ethan’s Incredibles action figures around her neighborhood. Along the way, Ethan’s classmates and neighbors left him messages in the window, or presents in their front yards.

“The first place we went was a kindergarten classmate’s [yard], [who] left a present in a tree for him to find,” Willigar said. “His kindergarten teacher left a present at the end of the street.”

Plan a parade

Small neighborhood parades are another fun way to celebrate birthdays while keeping a safe distance and enjoying the outdoors. Coordinate with your neighbors and friends to meet at a central location near the birthday boy or girl’s house, either in cars or at a safe social distance. Bring colorful signs, balloons and other crafty parade accoutrements. Then, let the procession begin.

Sam Freeman of Orrington decided to plan a parade of her own for her godson Noah’s birthday. She’d seen social media posts about teachers driving by students’ houses with messages on posterboards and offers from the Hampden Fire Department to drive their trucks in birthday parades, so she posted on Facebook the night before his birthday and was surprised by the response. Noah watched from his driveway as about 30 cars drove in the parade, while classmates and neighbors stood by the roadside with signs.

Your community will likely thank you for putting the effort into organizing a celebration.

“Reach out, and don’t be surprised at what actually happens,” Freeman said. “People want to help and people want to make things as special as they [can] right now. I think everyone now just needs a reason to smile and a reason to get out of their house.”

Treat yourself

Allow yourself to spend the day indulging in your favorite activities, even if they aren’t productive. That might mean relaxing all day reading, spending sometime in the bath with a glass of wine or having a movie marathon. Or, if you’re a tween or teen, it might mean doing a deep dive into a favorite game.

Linus Clark was disappointed when he wasn’t able to have a party for his 11th birthday this week, but was heartened when his parents, Matt and Ruth, gave him permission to play Overwatch during the day. Some video games like Minecraft and Fortnite even allow gamers to meet up virtually with their friends and play together.

If you have kids, give them a break from chores for the day. Ruth Clark said she “picked up the slack” for her son to give him the opportunity to relax and play video games.

Linus also got to plan his favorite meals for the day. For lunch, the family had Five Guys — take out, of course — and for dinner, they ate tacos.

Use social media to coordinate

No matter what kind of socially-distant birthday celebration you intend to have, utilizing social media can be helpful for planning and coordinating.

“Facebook is a wonderful thing,” Willigar laughed.

You can use social media to coordinate other birthday events, like surprising someone by leaving birthday presents in their driveway and decorating their mailbox (think back to decorating your friends’ lockers in middle school), or organizing a neighborhood sing-along from your patios.

Not only posting statuses, but also engaging with neighborhood groups can help bring people together — or, at least, as together as possible — for a celebration.

“We also have an Orrington Facebook group, which can get not so productive at times, but it was nice to see it for a good reason,” Freeman laughed. “That’s where the firemen saw it. I think they were the ones that passed it onto the Penobscot County sheriffs.”

Encourage celebrations from passersby

You can also put signs in your own yard to encourage people to honk or holler from a distance for the birthday boy or girl inside. You might just be surprised by the kind response.

The Clarks had a sign in their yard for Linus that read, “Honk For My 11th Birthday!” Ruth Clark said the sign attracted over a dozen honkers on their relatively quiet corner of Pine Street.

Don’t forget the cake

Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in cake. Some bakeries are still up and running. But if you aren’t up for going out (or are trying to keep a tight hold on purse strings), get into the kitchen and bake your own.

From easy pancakes like Blueberry Cake with Fluffy Vanilla Frosting from the BDN’s Sarah Walker Caron to fancier birthday cakes like the deceptively easy Kit Kat Cake from the blog Little Miss Kate & Co there are recipes for skill levels available just a few clicks away online. If you are a cake novice, be sure to search for “easy cake recipes.” But if you have a whole set of frosting tips, bags and more, don’t be afraid to go fancy with your creation.

Plan a party for the future

Even though the socially-distant birthday celebrations were uplifting, the birthday revellers all agreed that they will have another party once things have settled down.

“We’re going to have a huge un-birthday party for all the birthdays we missed once this is over, for sure,” Ruth Clark said.

Planning for the future will also give you something to look forward to.

“I think all these kids deserve another birthday after this,” Freeman said. “Probably the parents, too.”

Consider throwing a half-birthday celebration for children that have already celebrated their birthdays in quarantine.

“There are a lot of people we didn’t get to see that we normally would have invited to a party if we had had one,” Willigar said. “Maybe we’ll celebrate his six-and-a-halfth birthday. We have until September — we’ll be good by then, right?”

 


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