Tips for throwing a very good birthday party in quarantine

Although the usual options are not in the cards, there are many ways to make a locked-down celebrant feel cherished

By Vanessa Vallon


With St. Patty’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Passover already in the quarantine rearview, it’s safe to say we’ve gotten the hang of the whole safer-at-home celebration thing, which isn’t to say we’re…huge fans.

However, we have learned a thing or two about what works and what (certainly) doesn’t, like, that the best quarantine birthday parties probably aren’t Zoom bashes with 30 friends who all only know the birthday boy. From virtual game nights to drive-by parades, the list below will ensure the kids, teens, young adults, not-so-young adults and seniors in your life feel the love on their big day when going out and gathering still isn’t possible.

KIDS (3-12)

Change the rules for the day

In a time when the days feel more and more alike, it doesn’t take much effort to mix it up. When was the last time class was cancelled due to mandatory attendance of an AM movie marathon? What about a mid-day dance party? Or how about breakfast for dinner, with a black-tie dress code? For a truly memorable day in a period when a lot tends to look the same, any efforts to make the day feel different will not soon be forgotten. 

Camp out at home 

In the absence of vacations and sleepovers, the kids know their (and possibly your) bed all too well. Why not take a trip to… the living room? You can go as big or as DIY as you want at this hyper-local campsite, from a humble pillow fort with blankets to a true tent with sleeping bags (perhaps even in the backyard!). Have dinner around the “camp,” play music, tell ghost stories, and maybe even roast smores. We won’t tell if you decide to sneak back to the bedroom for a good night’s rest. 

Check-in with friends for a short, themed virtual birthday party 

Kids will enjoy seeing their friends outside the virtual classroom. To keep things focussed and fun, consider implementing a theme with a dress code, suggested snacks and a relevant game. Invite parents to participate to help keep things on track, and don’t forget to sing happy birthday!

TEENS (13-20)

Drive-by visit

We’ve seen the videos. We’ve admired the participants’ enthusiasm and envied the recipients’ joy. Now is your chance to get in on the heartwarming surprise by arranging a special vehicle parade for the teen in your life. Even if participating teens have their licenses, advise paraders to designate a (slightly) less enthusiastic party (i.e. parent) to serve as chauffeur so the person riding shotgun can pop out of the sunroof with their homemade sign. And be sure to film the whole thing!  

Netflix party 

Help the movie-loving birthday teen celebrate by selecting their favorite film and inviting all their friends “over” for a virtual movie night. On Netflix Party, viewers can co-watch and converse on the good, the bad, and the ugly all the way through using the chat feature that appears beside the video window. Take it to FaceTime directly following for a round of “Happy Birthday.”


Game night

One of the few things that actually works very well on the computer is game night! In lieu of a (sad) non-participating game leader, the computer serves as host, dealer, referee, etc. so participants can just focus on having fun…and of course winning. There are many games online that will get the laughs flowing and have the time whizzing by: Scattergories, Pictionary, cribbage (!), and Heads Up are just a few ideas to get you started. 


Recruit the resident mixology hobbyist in your friend-group to design a signature birthday cocktail in honor of the celebrant’s favorite libation. Hopefully they also like public speaking because they are going to guide your friend group through a virtual cocktail making class. And be sure to cheers to the Birthday bud at the end!

ADULTS (36-64)


Everyone loves to outsmart their friends, especially on their birthday! We kid…sort of. Appoint a trivia-master for a rousing round of who-unfortunately-but-fortunately-for-right-now-remembers-the-most-random-things with all of the birthday adult’s pals. Check out this random trivia generator for questions. To set a festive, together in spirit mood, send out the recipes for the person of honor’s favorite cocktail and snacks, so you can all savour the same flavors, albeit from afar. 

Cooking Class

Hire a chef, recruit a culinary-minded friend or simply dial up a YouTube tutorial for some group cooking! Some tips to keep in mind for the DIY gourmet night: send out the recipe well in advance so guests can procure ingredients, host a Zoom and share your screen (if watching a video), so you can keep your place if an oh-sh*% pause is needed, and encourage amateur chefs to showcase their plating skills so you can see who has the best lookin’ spread at the end of the night.


Singing telegram 

Enlist a talented pal or hire a professional to serenade your loved one with their favorite tune. Preferably costumed and armed with a boombox or instrument, the performer can keep a safe distance while putting on an incredible performance of the birthday star’s favorite tune(s)! For extra points, consider having some surprise guests join mid-way through. 

Virtual Reminiscin’

Send your favorite senior a photo album with amazing life moments and schedule a virtual walk down memory lane with friends and family featured in the pictures. So it’s easy to follow, encourage only one person to speak at a time while sharing their memory with the celebrant. We probably don’t have to say it again but: wrap with a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday!