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10 Virtual Birthday Ideas to Help Some One Have the Happiest Day

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchApril 6, 2020

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April 7 is my birthday, and while I haven’t looked forward to that date for a number of years, this specific spin around the calendar feels more “meh” than ever. Especially since I’m social distancing alone in my apartment (well, alone minus my cats), if there’s any difference between “my birthday” and “any Tuesday ever,” I’m not seeing it. It’s clear that having a birthday during the coronavirus crisis isn’t exactly a naturally celebratory, jovial situation, but, experts tell me, having a birthday during this time doesn’t have to evoke the epitome of gloom, either. And before we delve into virtual birthday ideas to turn the celebration around, it’s important to confront those feelings.

Therapist Lauren Cook, MMFT, author of The Sunny Side Up: Celebrating Happiness, says not wallowing is key here. “Make sure you take the time to really acknowledge that it’s your birthday, and acknowledge that it’s a special day, while also giving yourself room to feel sad,” she says.

“Make sure you take the time to really acknowledge that it’s your birthday, and acknowledge that it’s a special day, while also giving yourself room to feel sad.” —therapist Lauren Cook, MMFT

I, for one, would like to achieve this balance—after all, a not-totally-awful effect of COVID-19 is that I have a newfound appreciation for the value of another year—but not drowning in despair on a day I hate in the best of circumstances frankly sounds difficult. So I realize that if I stand a chance at approximating a celebration of any sort for my birthday during coronavirus, I’ll need to rely even more than usual on a little help from my friends. And even though I’m social distancing from them, it’s still totally possible for us to connect.

In that spirit, below find 10 virtual birthday ideas for how you can help the people you love celebrate a birthday during coronavirus so they feel as loved as possible.

10 virtual birthday ideas to make people celebrating during the coronavirus crisis still feel special

1. Organize a virtual party

Cook suggests everyone quarantining with the guest of honor should FaceTime various others simultaneously, so multiple people can sing “Happy Birthday” at once. That way, she says, it’ll feel like a bigger party. Zoom’s grid-view function can also accomplish this effect, but without the need for anyone to be physically present. All you need to do is organize the call, and let the festivities begin! You might not be able to properly kick it old school with pin the tail on the donkey, but there are plenty of games you can play online with friends. Charades, anyone?

2. Set up a virtual film festival

If you’re a natural cinemaphile whose accustomed to low-key birthday watch parties, why not watch movie together online? You can have a Netflix Party with, literally, Netflix Party, but that isn’t your only option. A streaming platform like Scener will allow you to video chat with the whole gang, while the still-in-beta-but-very-cool Metastream can even create a queue of films to watch. Go ahead and plan a John Hughes movie marathon, kick it off with Sixteen Candles; even Samantha Baker was able to turn her birthday around.

3. Send them a celeb shoutout

Cook recommends utilizing Cameo to send your loved one a personalized birthday message from the celebrity of their dreams (or, the closest approximation of that person, available through Cameo). (If any of my friends are reading this, I’m feeling Debbie Gibson or Carnie Wilson, but only if she’ll sing me a few bars of “Hold On.”)

4. Or curate multiple video messages

A service like Marco Polo is amazing for this—it’s a service that shows when your loved ones are available to do Face-to-Face chats, and can even allow for group convos, right off the comfort of your phone. But you could also use it to record video messages on your own time, and make someone feel the love extra hard on their B-Day.

5.  assume the role of fairy godmother

Rachel Hoffman, head of therapy at digital mental-health resource Real, suggests dressing up the birthday person and having a dance party. And this can work, even if you’re not quarantined together. For instance, I have a fairy godmother friend who sent me a ball gown to wear on my birthday; she’s going to wear one too, and we’re planning to have a FaceTime dance party in our gowns, plus Kangaboots.

If you don’t have a ball gown at your disposal, no matter; any type of festive attire will do. Deliver it to your friend’s doorstep and cue up Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own,” together (but apart). 

6. Deliver them some local goodies and enjoy coffee and dessert together

Local bakeshops could use some love right now, so don’t hesitate to send cupcakes or other sweet treats to your friend; it’s sort of your civic duty.

Or, you could bake them a cake using this decadent (but low-sugar) recipe, and deliver it to their doorstep.

7. Send them booze and have a wine tasting

If ever there were a valid reason to pop a cork before noon, it’s having a birthday during the coronavirus pandemic. Minibar Delivery is an app that connects you to local liquor stores for ordering alcohol and mixers for delivery. Winc allows you to gift a wine subscription to see the birthday guy or gal all the way through the rest of this awful situation. In my opinion, in fact, the happiest birthday gift of all may just be the classification of booze-slinging establishments (shops, not bars) in many states as essential. So use the video platform of your choice, maybe set aside some cheese (Kraft singles work fine in an emergency) and BYOB!

8. play dj with all their favorite tracks

In fact, a really cute platform like Plug.DJ can facilitate this, you can set up some straight jams and get the party started! And sing-alongs make for feel-good digital karaoke. Just, you know…maybe don’t queue up “Imagine.”

9. whisk them away on a trip

A similar idea if you’re quarantining with the birthday honoree is to “fake” a vacation to somewhere they were either supposed to go or would like to go when this is all over. For example, if they were planning a trip to Spain this spring, you could make homemade tapas, serve sangria, and screen Vicki Cristina Barcelona. Don’t live together right now? Drop off this birthday “kit” on their doorstep, then video call them while you each enjoy the goodies from your own homes. You can also do an old-school IOU, with a coupon for a free night’s stay in the Spanish hotel of their choice, redeemable once this novel coronavirus has been controlled.

10. Throw a pajama party

Not all that long ago, it was newsworthy that Selena Gomez opted for a low-key slumber party to celebrate her 25th birthday. Sure, now everybody‘s doing it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it seem like a special choice. If you’re quarantining with the birthday person, set the night up like a nostalgic sleepover with sleeping bags, movie-theater candy and popcorn, hair-styling supplies, mani/pedi kits, and a movie not quite appropriate for your age bracket (Back then this might have meant Friday the 13th. Now? More like The Little Mermaid). Bonus points for matching onesies.

Originally published on April 6, 2020; updated on April 22, 2020

BTW, this is why all your friends have birthdays in the same month. And if all else fails, at least you can give each and every one of them this one very special (and free) gift.

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