So your birthday (or a mate's) is rolling around, but - agh - we're back in lockdown and throwing a big bash isn't exactly on the cards. Le sigh. Once you've allowed yourself a hot second to feel blue that the in-person knees-up you had planned isn't possible right now, it's time to get planning your lockdown birthday party. Maybe you've sat in on a few Zoom or House Party virtual celebrations that have been a little...glitchy? Or, y'know, you're a bit bored of the classic drinks-over-a-laptop-screen now that we're 10 MONTHS in.
Read on for the best tips and tricks for nailing a lockdown birthday party. Our thoughts and prayers are with those with March birthdays, who might be contemplating their second birthday stuck at home. Grab the cocktails, round up your (virtual) pals and just try to let loose for an evening.
How to throw a lockdown birthday
1. Pick a platform
Start by weighing up the pros and cons of each video platform.
Zoom: If you want to use Zoom for more than the standard free 40 minutes, you'll have to cough up £11.99, but it's great to see multiple faces at once.
House Party: If you've got multiple friend groups who don't necessarily know each other, and you're worried about potential awkward silences on a giant group video, why not have each friend group set up their own "room" on House Party? That way the birthday person can hop between the various friend group rooms, almost like at a real house party, and everyone is happy socialising with people they know well.
Teams: If your work pay for it, you might as well make the most of it. Right?
Tip: double-check your privacy settings on any chat app to make sure you're comfortable with the data they can collect from you.
2. Send detailed invites
Send out your invite with clear instructions on how your guests can join the party - ie, a link to download the app, whether they can use their computer or phone, and is there an entry code they need? This is especially helpful if you have older relatives joining.
3. Set a start (and finish) time
Have a clear start time, and (may we recommend) a 'soft' suggested end time. For example, try saying something like this:
"Join us from 7 to 8:30, but everyone's welcome to keep the party going longer".
Your best friends might be up for partying into the wee hours virtually with you, but acquaintances or colleagues might want to just 'pop in' for one drink.
If you've ever been on a Zoom call with lots of people you don't know, anxiously wondering how long is a polite amount of time to stay on the chat, you will appreciate being told a reasonable end time. Not everyone's quarantine situations will allow for a long video sesh.
4. Set a theme
Ask yourself 'should my party have a theme?' (The answer should almost always be yes.) If your guests are all from the same close circle of mates, or all family members, a dress-up theme can be a brilliant way to get the laughs rolling as people log on.
Are you all fans of the same niche TV show or novel? Ask everyone to come as a character. Were you all supposed to go to a festival together, but those plans are in the bin now? *Sob*. Everyone should deffo don their best festival looks from the waist-up, face glitter included. Or, ask everyone to come dressed as something beginning with the first letter of the birthday person's name, and see what weirdness people dream up.
If you're the host, go all out and decorate your background (aka, the only clean corner of your flat) to fit the theme as well. It could be good to get your guests involved in this, too, if you know they're the kind to enjoy an afternoon task. Maybe ask everyone to create a 70's disco style backdrop with items they already own, or you could even just encourage them to set one using the Settings on Zoom.
Remember: having a costume theme works best when the guest list all know each other very well. People can experience social anxiety via video too, and people might be less likely to attend a costume-themed video call if they don't know who else will be there or how strictly people are adhering to the theme.
5. Add an activity
If you're the kind of birthday person who prefers *activities* to sitting and chatting, why not add a game to your party?
Escape Room: Durham Escape Room has brought its IRL rooms online - hunt for clues to find mysterious agent Mr. X.
Karaoke: Host Zoom karaoke (again, best reserved for smaller groups who know each other well). Share the DJ's screen, remind everyone but the singer to mute their mics, and take turns picking out bangers to belt out.
Murder Mystery: There are loads of murder mystery options online - browse Red Herring's online party game offerings, starting from £21.99 (check out the "Murder in the Alps" theme). Over at My Mystery Party, Murder in Dreary Hollow is around £30, and can be played by 4-10 people.
Not a huge fan of overly organised fun, but still want something to do besides chat? Check out our list of adult party games to get the ball rolling:
Never Have I Ever: Seriously, is this never not jokes?
Cards Against Humanity: If you're a fan of Cards Against Humanity, you'll be delighted to know you can play it with your mates online here. Alternatively, why not try Psych, where the funniest answers win.
Heads Up: Download the app and watch while everyone scrambles to describe the word before the timer runs out.
Or there are online games you can play together online, to take the pressure off of holding a conversation for hours. Websites like Jackbox Games are full of interactive options, or you could give a virtual round of bingo a go.
6. Order cocktails or sync up your snacks
Some booze companies, like The Mixology Brothers, are offering home-delivered cocktail-making kits for your guests, complete with a virtual bartender who will show your crew how to whip up their drinks. Or check out The Bottled Bartender, NIO Cocktails, or Borough Box for other drink delivery services. You could also DIY it - pick a cocktail recipe or two, email it to your guests in advance so they can get the ingredients, and make your tipples together. Want something simpler? Do a "masks and mimosas" theme, and laugh as all your girls (and guys!) cover their faces in green goo and sip on Prosecco.
If you're attempting Dry January or aren't keen on boozing, how about syncing up your snacks with your friends and family, instead? This doesn't have to mean creating a fancy menu or even anything other than forwarding on a list of the birthday person's favourite crisps / biscuits, so everyone can stock up on the same.
It's not *quite* the same as sharing a tube of Pringles or a 3am cheesy chips stop, but it can add to the fun of making it feel like you're celebrating together.
At the end of the day, you're going to be glad to see your friends and family, no matter what. Try to roll with any laggy audio or patchy video - a 2021 virtual birthday in isolation will be one to tell the grandkids about years from now.
It's a unique time in history, and don't worry - you'll be back celebrating with your mates before you know it. Oh, and don't forget to sing Happy Birthday (while washing your hands? No?) and to take a screenshot of everyone. 😎
Follow Maddy on Instagram.
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