40th Birthday Ideas During Pandemic – Birthdays are kind of a big deal in my house. We usually celebrate with a group of friends, sharing great food and wine, and partying until the wee hours of the morning.
But when my husband, Don’s, birthday rolls around this year, we are just as tied up as everyone else – and creativity is called for. So, I posted love poems around the house the night before, baked his mom’s famous chocolate cake, and planned a surprise birthday party for Zoom with a few close friends holding candles and sending him heartfelt greetings.
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Why go to all the trouble? As with weddings and other traditions, birthday parties are bigger than one person. They bring friends and family together, strengthening the bonds that make up our community. They remind us that we are not alone in the face of our mortality. They are a great excuse to eat cake.
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We will all celebrate a birthday (or maybe two or three) under the restrictions imposed by this pandemic. Even with this convenience, we may not be willing to risk large social gatherings. Although some may not think a birthday passes unnoticed –
In one UK study, researchers asked people to describe their birthday celebrations and how the celebrations affected them on two occasions.
They came to some interesting conclusions: rituals associated with birthdays – such as giving cards and gifts, or sharing cakes or meals – give them significance and meaning. They provide a sense of “shared continuity”—that is, a sense that we’re all going through life together—that helps us feel less focused on our own aging.
Birthday parties also make us feel loved, which can be a great way to boost our mental health – especially in times of stress. And birthdays can be especially important for children, helping them understand the concept of aging, while increasing their self-esteem and strengthening their sense of belonging to their family.
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Birthdays (and other milestones) can also be times to reevaluate our lives. Research suggests that birthdays help motivate people to make important changes—such as exercising more or starting a healthier diet—and to pursue life goals intentionally. Birthdays help us put our “old self” behind us in favor of the evolving self, which helps us move forward on our life’s path.
Of course, birthdays often give us the opportunity to participate in shared rituals: emotional group gatherings that can help us transcend the present and deepen our relationships with others. Research shows that shared traditions make us feel part of a larger social identity, suggesting that losing these traditions can be difficult for us.
So, what can we do to welcome people to this time and keep the benefits? Here are the guidelines to follow.
Birthdays are an opportunity to let people know that they are special to you. That’s why I wanted Don’s friends to express their gratitude for his birthday. It enhanced Zoom’s quirky social hour with more meaning and emotional touch.
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Amber M. The Novato, Calif., native didn’t expect to do much for her 31st birthday, which fell just two weeks after the incarceration. But his sister, daughter and niece created a birthday car parade, with friends driving through his neighborhood in cars decorated with shields and balloons, blaring their radios or hanging from their sunroofs to cheer him on as he watched from his front yard. Others gave us thoughtful gifts, like potting soil and toilet paper, which were hard to come by in the early days of the lockdown.
“It was one of the most beautiful things that ever happened to me,” says Amber. “It made me feel so happy.”
Later, Amber was surprised to learn that this display of love also had an effect on her neighbors. Many of them wanted to get to know her and her husband better, thinking that anyone who brought so much enthusiasm on their birthday must be good and worth being around.
The parade was recorded and posted on Facebook, which meant he could watch it in the following months when he felt the tragedy get him down.
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“Every time I start to feel bad about not seeing my friends and doing the things I want to, I just watch this and it lifts my spirits,” says Amber.
A birthday is the first opportunity to let people know that they are part of a community of caring people, which made Amber’s celebration extra special. Since we feel more connected when we are with each other, it is a good idea to have people together in person – even if they need to stay apart.
Seventeen-year-old Ann-Lynn from Flemington, New Jersey, organized a street party that involved friends gathering at the birthday girl’s house and getting together to talk, gossip and share cake. Although the girls stood six feet apart and wore gloves and masks most of the time, being together let the celebrant know they were important.
“As people, we need to be together,” says An-Lin, “since it was the first time everyone was outside their homes and together, it made it special.”
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Although 20-year-old Aidan G. of Kensington, California, was home from college due to COVID, his girlfriend put together a video of college friends wishing him a happy birthday and sharing gratitude, which really touched him. Later, her mother invited close friends to the house and sat on the porch, sat by the roaring fire and made it. Worries.
“My birthday was surprisingly good, better than I expected, because I felt connected to people, even though everyone was supposed to be away from society,” says Aidan. “I was reminded people care about me.”
Surprises can make people feel warm and give them a sense of excitement that can be very important at this time. So for her son’s 14th birthday, Anne S. of Berkeley, California, invited her friends, family and some teachers to send a video clip to wish him a happy birthday. He also asked his oldest daughter to put it together into a fun slideshow with music to share with her on her actual birthday.
Angela J. of Los Angeles, California, attended a surprise birthday party on Zoom for a Philadelphia-based aunt who was turning 90. More than 80 family members and friends from around the country joined the call, offering congratulations and Thanks to her aunt. One cousin even created a special online presentation of the call, which included live and recorded music, as well as dance performances and poetry.
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Of course, the most important thing in designing any celebration is to know the birthday recipient’s likes and dislikes – and what is most important to them. It may take more effort to plan the closing time to do something that will please the celebrant and still keep everyone safe from harm.
However, it makes sense to hold such celebrations during the time of COVID. Losing social norms can be detrimental to our well-being, making us feel disconnected from others and lacking unity of purpose. Conversely, continuing important rituals, such as birthday celebrations, can create the positive emotions, social relationships, and sense of control over our lives that we need in this stressful and uncertain time.
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