Whatever your party style—sweaty dance fest at a club, a dinner that takes a Doodle to wrangle all 25 of your besties, laser tag followed by DQ ice cream cake because 2001 you was onto something—chances are you won’t be able celebrate your usual way this year. (Please don’t make us explain why.)
That is not, however, an excuse to schedule a Pity Party—guest list of one—instead. You and your milestones—a birthday, a graduation, three years of sobriety, the one year anniversary of launching that thing—remain worth celebrating. Perhaps even more so, given all the things we’ve lived through this year (and it’s ONLY JUNE.)
Turn up “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield (or Kool and the Gang, Black Eyed Peas or whatever track is your unabashed cheesy dance floor hype song) and let’s plan some parties—recalibrated for pandemic life, but Grade-A Good Times nonetheless.
When Jenna Janzen Olstad’s son Lewiston passed away at six months old, she and her husband resolved that his birthday—May 25—would always be a day of celebration, not sadness. Each year, they throw a fundraiser to mark the day, and this year, the fourth, was heading toward a significant milestone: “We were hoping to raise $250,000,” recalls Olstad over the phone from Calgary. “That would mean we’d hit the million-dollar mark for our foundation, which was a huge goal for us to give back to the hospital and critically ill kids.”
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Two weeks out, however, Olstad quickly realized that having an IRL event wasn’t possible this year thanks to COVID-19—so she pivoted. “I leaned on a mindset I’ve been cultivating since my son’s death, which is ‘Just because this doesn’t look like how I think it’s going to go, doesn’t mean I throw in the towel and give up.’” Instead, she hosted 24 interviews on Instagram Live over 12 hours, raising $76,000 along the way. The lesson here, even if your derailed celebration wasn’t even remotely altruistic (because that’s totally OK too!)? “Look for the opportunities. Look for the pieces of joy—and if you can’t find the joy, bring it.”
#2 Consider your party a public service
An easy way to bring the joy? THROW THE PARTY (virtually, of course, or appropriately physically distanced if allowed where you are) even if it feels self-indulgent to be celebrating you when there’s so much going on in the world. “Our social calendars are pretty empty right now,” reminds Roxanne Chapman, principle of Proper Plan, a Toronto-based events firm. “A party is a great way to bring people together, and connection is something we all need right now.”
A self-confessed “birthday person,” Chapman is actually in the midst of planning her own virtual party. “I usually plan large parties where I invited 100 people or more,” she says. This year, however, she’s reflected on what “makes a birthday special,” and she’s realized it’s “connecting with friends in smaller, more intimate ways.” Or as Olstad puts it: “Quality time with quality people.” Instead of the dinner with 25 people, she suggests focusing on your two best friends. Drop a bottle of wine off at each of their houses, and then crack it open together over Zoom later. Or, if you’re in the same household, set off a confetti cannon for just the two or three of you. “Just because there weren’t 500 people there, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Olstad says. “I’ve learned to celebrate those quiet, sacred moments when there’s no watching, no camera around.”
#3 …Or feel free to take the day entirely for yourself
If you’re self-isolating alone—or are just one of those people who likes to mark important days solo—dedicate the day to some hardcore Self Care. “Make this day about doing whatever you love to do,” encourages event planner Chapman. “If you love reading, pick up a new book and spend the day in the park. If you love the spa, spend time in the tub with a new bath bomb. If you want a good dinner, some restaurants are offering special menus for takeout.”
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In a similar vein, Olstad suggests cultivating a day full of “joy starters,” something she talks about in her recent book, Bring the Joy. “For me, that’s my French press coffee made with my favourite bean in a mug from a local potter,” she says, “and having it during my quiet time before my husband and kids get up.”
And speaking of quiet: We often get reflective around milestones, and Olstad recommends harnessing that with some journalling. “Just grab a piece of paper,” she says, stressing that it doesn’t need to be pretty, and can even just be some bullet points or random words. “When we write, our brain can start to process some of the stuff that’s jumbled up in there.” Personally, she usually writes down what she’s grateful for, and then “I allow myself to dream really big, without judgment.”
And don’t forget the satisfaction that can come from doing something nice for someone else on your special day: “Bless it forward,” says Olstad, throwing out suggestions like buying groceries for someone you might know who needs them, or offering to babysit (in a physically distanced way). “Think how you can show up for someone else. That cultivates joy back in you.”
#4 A virtual celebration doesn’t have to be lame, BTW
Yes, we’re all sick of Zoom and, agreed, we’ll scream if we hear that House Party notification bell one more time. But for most of us, it’s the closest we’re coming to hanging out with our friends en masse anytime soon—so make the best of it. “I would deliver contactless packages to your guests,” says Chapman. Think of it like a party-in-a-box: Decorations for their background, a party hat. “For my birthday, I’m planning on sending a cocktail kit, with all the ingredients and a recipe, with an option for a mocktail.” And most importantly? “Send a game or activity everyone can do together to make the call more exciting.” For an alternate program, Chapman suggests “going to a show together,” by tuning into something like the National Theatre, which streams free productions every Thursday night. They even have intermission, just like in real life—perfect for a popcorn top-up!
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#5 Consider creative ways to be together, IRL too
If you live somewhere where small, physically distanced gatherings are allowed, Chapman has a few best practices for your celebration: “All food and beverages should be individually packaged,” she says, also recommending that you stagger your guests’ arrival times. “It takes a bit of scheduling, but this will allow you to celebrate with all your friends and family while remaining safe.” And don’t forget: Most florists and balloon companies are still delivering, so don’t forget to order ahead and book in your balloon arch and/or Kimye-style floral wall.