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Celebrating your birthday during a pandemic

Alright folks, we’re almost six months into this pandemic. Along with the massive human toll and economic, political and emotional fallout this will cause, it also means almost half of us have had a birthday under some degree of quarantine. Restaurants and bars aren’t the same kind of celebratory environment they once were, and throwing a big in-person party is at worst illegal and at best incredibly careless. Even if you’re still going to work in person, partying down the way you did last year could directly lead to someone else suffering. So, how do you celebrate yourself or a loved one without taking needless risks? Here are some options. 


Zoom Parties


Zoom parties are sort of a retro throwback to the early months of the pandemic when we were naive and optimistic, but they can still be fun! Especially if you thrive off the attention of others, or if you have a large social circle that you want to maintain, a Zoom party can be a great way to celebrate your birthday with everyone you care about. There’s a catch, though: have a concrete activity in mind. 


Without some sort of activity to focus your party around, a Zoom party can quickly become boring or off-putting. In a live setting, parties are a great way to mingle and meet new people. This doesn’t translate well to Zoom, where it’s impossible to carry on multiple conversations at once and the cold glare of the computer screen bathes everything in an unpleasant awkwardness. Break through that ice by providing your guests with something to focus on. 


This could be as simple as playing 20 questions, hangman or mad libs as a group. Children’s games work particularly well because we have all emotionally regressed 5-10 years in the last six months. If you have a smaller-sized group, you could even do a one-shot Dungeons & Dragons campaign! Another fun option is to throw a Powerpoint party.


The Powerpoint party concept is simple; everyone attending the party prepares a short Powerpoint presentation about a topic they’re passionate about and presents it to the group. This frequently ends up becoming a sort of Bizarro World TED Talks conference. A recent Powerpoint party I attended included topics such as “Which moldy fruits are most fun to chop in half out of the air?” “Which of my friends would win in a fight?” and “Cartoon characters I found conventionally attractive as a child.” The presenter of the last one took no questions. 


Analog Partying


Okay, so the stakes of the Zoom game are too high for you. I understand. Maybe your social circle isn’t built for video conferencing, which is fine, because they’re not a high-powered team of lawyers. That doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate your birthday. If you’ve got a couple close friends, try hanging out in a park or at the beach. If your friends are a little more adventurous, try planning a grocery shopping trip together that feels safe for you. Maybe grab some of those cheap frosted cookies that they used to pass out at elementary school birthday parties. 


If you’ve got roommates, family or other people you’re bubbled with, your options are even broader. Throw your sibling or housemate a mini surprise party, complete with little banners and decorations that will stay up for weeks as sheer quarantine apathy prevents anyone from taking them down. I’ve had a JoJo Siwa banner from Walmart hanging in my living room for two weeks. 


If you don’t have bubble-mates that you want to spend your special day with, and Zoom isn’t your style, consider taking a day for yourself. Think less self-care and more self-indulgence. Buy that big cake that you pass by every time you go to the grocery store. Order some delivery and tip really well. Maybe get a stylish new dress that you can waltz around the house in. The possibilities are endless as long as it momentarily drives off the existential dread. 


Drinks and Cuisine


If you, like me, are turning 21 this year, you might be feeling cheated missing the rites of passage that come at that age. Jammed clubs with loud music and sloppy shots are a thing of the past, and who knows when they’re coming back. But you still can enjoy your special day in a boozy way. Think of a couple creative drinks or local brews you can set out for yourself and your housemates. Here’s one idea to get you started:


Take a chilled 8-10 lb watermelon and set it on a flat end so it stands upright. Cut a hole about the diameter of a golf ball in the top. Using an electric mixer or a hand blender, puree the insides of the watermelon into watermelon juice. Pour in ¾ cup of tequila, ¼ cup of triple sec, ½ cup of lime juice, and ¼ cup of simple syrup. Stir thoroughly and either pour into cups with ice or add ice directly to the watermelon and drink directly out of it, perhaps with big ridiculous silly straws. 


Your birthday is also a good time to get creative in the kitchen. Vanguard’s Quarantine Cuisine expert Nick Gatlin recommends chocolate depression cake because it’s thematically appropriate, easy to make and delicious. “Make a depression cake, pretend you’re eating with all your friends in person, definitely don’t portion out the cake and then eat it all yourself,” Gatlin told me over text. “Then dive straight back into the quarantine death spiral that we’re all living through.”


However you choose to celebrate your birthday this year, remember that it’s not going to be the same as previous years, and that’s okay! Everything is a disaster and in the grand scheme of things, your birthday is not the most important thing that’s going to happen to you during the pandemic, so take it as an excuse to just enjoy yourself and have a day off from life. Make it your own.