Still Alive! Celebrating Birthdays During a Pandemic

How are Stuy students celebrating birthdays during a pandemic?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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By Ivy Jiang

Huzzah! Another year older. Cut the cake and give the piñata a good whack. Sing the song. Blow out the candles (and don’t forget to make a wish)! Birthday kid gets the first slice!

These days, the celebratory spirit can be hard to muster—COVID-19 has killed over 100 thousand people. Shuttered businesses are sinking, and employees are going down with the ship. Schools are closed through the summer. As the world sweats out a fever, a birthday bash can seem out of place, and from a purely logistical view, impractical.

“It’s hard to celebrate your birthday during quarantine because you can’t do anything in person,” freshman Lara Ongan, who celebrated a friend’s birthday in quarantine, said. Because of the lockdown, Ongan and her two other party planners had to get creative: “It was a surprise,” Ongan said. “We each FaceTimed her with our own little pastry. She was turning 15, so the three of us had five candles each to make up 15. We lit them and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.” Despite the physical distance, Ongan’s friend was really happy. “She thanked us a bunch after it. It was really sad she had to celebrate her birthday during quarantine, but we tried to make it better for her,” Ongan said.

For many people celebrating birthdays, making it better is the most that can be hoped for. “We weren’t able to go outside and have a nice dinner,” freshman Ryan Lee said, recounting his mom’s birthday. “But we were still able to buy a birthday cake and everything. We had a massive FaceTime with a bunch of family members, so that was fun.”

Family-centric celebrations like Lee’s are coming into vogue, perhaps out of necessity. Seeing friends is difficult in the age of social distancing. “My father came in and brought gifts, cards, and money,” sophomore Jenna Mackenroth said. “Afterwards, we had ginger ale, Fanta, and I don’t like cake, so I had macarons because they are delicious and beautiful. Then, we simply sang the song, ate the food, had a discussion, and voila. That was the end of my birthday.”

Senior Emma Linderman spent her birthday similarly—minus the cake hate. “My mom made a cake,” she said. “[It was] vanilla with chocolate icing.”

In some ways, family celebrations are a way of easing the disappointment of canceling normal birthday plans. It’s a gentle pat on the shoulder. “I am now 16 and was preparing for a larger-than-normal birthday thing,” Mackenroth said. “Normally, I don’t do too much, but I was hoping to amp it up this year. Then COVID came, and I was stuck at home. But I got over it.”

As families carouse in quarantine, friends of the birthday boys and girls look for ways to celebrate from afar. Most people go digital—Facebook messages, phone calls, and in one case, a surprise party on Zoom.

“I thought I was calling [my friend], but it turned out to be a Zoom link to a giant call with about 30 people and a completely edited video of combined birthday wishes,” junior Max Kahn said. “I almost—almost—cried.”

But as COVID-19 death tolls rise, some might feel that celebrating anything at all, even in 2D, is incongruous and even insensitive. Kahn disagrees.

“It's very important to still celebrate birthdays at this time,” he said. “Especially since it feels like we’re losing our normal lives, it’s important to retain any possible shred of normalcy to remind us [of] who we are and that there are still these bright moments even though we’re in a dark tunnel right now.”

So take out the party poppers. Give them a good blow. Just don’t share.