As children around the world grieve over canceled birthday parties, their parents are finding creative ways to celebrate.
Social distancing during a pandemic doesn’t mean celebrations have to be canceled. It just means people have to do things a little differently.
Dakota Aaron was supposed to have a Build-A-Bear party for his sixth birthday.
“He was heartbroken,” Dakota’s mother, Katie Grefe, said.
Since the original plan couldn’t happen, Grefe put together a fun celebration at their home in Ridgeland. Dakota’s big sister, Autumn, decorated his room with balloons and set up a trail of Matchbox cars that led him there, where he found a pile of birthday gifts.
The family baked and decorated cookies for a fun activity. They swung at a piñata in the backyard. Grefe’s parents and siblings also planned a little parade for Dakota in front of his house.
Grefe said Dakota was so happy that he cried. “He is such a good sport,” she said.
One of the newest trends in birthday celebrations is the birthday parade, such as the one Dakota had.
Melissa Mutterer of Bluffton did the same thing for her daughter Hazel’s third birthday. She posted about it on a Facebook page for Rose Hill, and set up a table at the end of the driveway, with balloons and signs asking people to “Honk for Hazel.”
Neighbors walked, rode their bikes and drove by the Mutterer home, stopping briefly – and from a distance – to wish Hazel a happy birthday. Some brought gifts.
There was even a special appearance by Princess Anna from the “Frozen” movies. The princess impersonator, Sierra Pollard, is a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University who has been staying with her parents during the pandemic. Her mother saw Mutterer’s post and mentioned it to Pollard, who was thrilled to put on a costume and visit Hazel.
Pollard dresses up as the Disney princess for parties to make a little money while in school. Although Pollard will be in town only during the social distancing period, she said parents are welcome to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if they’d like to request a visit.
Along the same lines as the birthday parades, both Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue and Bluffton Township Fire District are offering to drive by homes for kids’ birthdays. On Hilton Head, call 843-247-4577 at least two days in advance. In Bluffton, email the parent’s name, the birthday child’s name, address and phone number to email@example.com at least three days in advance.
Samantha Novitski of Hilton Head Island posted in a local Facebook group, asking for ideas to make her 5-year-old son Mason’s birthday special. People suggested putting out a Slip ‘N’ Slide, doing a treasure hunt, asking friends and family to mail gifts, having a glow-in-the-dark family party, or a family slumber party with S’mores, movies and popcorn.
Novitski said they ended up spending the afternoon outside, playing games and blowing bubbles. The birthday boy got to eat his favorite dinner, pot roast. He opened presents, played dress up with some new costumes and got to make his own birthday cake.
“The day was very fun and sentimental,” Novitski said.
Of course, birthday parties are not just for kids. Adults are taking advantage of modern technology to celebrate their birthdays, using Zoom and other apps to connect with family and friends.
The video conferencing app Zoom has become a household name during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing businesses to host conferences remotely, doctors to treat their patients and friends to spend time together without being in the same room.
Lynne Hummell, editor of The Bluffton Sun and The Hilton Head Sun, recently attended a Zoom birthday party for a friend in Boston.
“There were 14 of us on the screen, which looked to me like a miniature Hollywood Squares setup,” Hummell said. “Actually, there were 14 boxes, and some had two or more people.”
“It was great fun. We even did the hand-washing motions while singing ‘Happy Birthday.'”
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.