COVID-19 has changed the way Jewish Atlanta behaves socially and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, community members are discovering their inner creativity, especially when it comes to having fun.
We have seen phenomenal ideas to not just pass the time, but to enjoy celebrating life’s biggest moments within the COVID-19 restrictions, even while respecting the new rules of pandemic etiquette. Our new isolated lifestyle makes safely living life to its fullest without excluding our loved ones even more important, albeit more tricky to accomplish.
That’s why we consulted Sharon Estroff, a parenting and education consultant, mother of four and author of “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” to give us some pointers.
The health and well-being of children and their families should be the most important concern. After months of sheltering-in-place, families are attempting to somewhat cautiously emerge. Even though you might be allowed to have an in-person party, the question remains how to do so without placing you and other families in danger.
You have a unique opportunity to safely create celebrations your child will remember forever; they will not have another like it. Even as your child gets older, they will never forget that time they celebrated during a pandemic! You are creating a special memory.
But acknowledge this is a celebration during a pandemic. Protect your guests, whether they are there virtually or in-person. Anything that can be touched (including party favors and crafts you drop off to guests) should be in its own package, with an individual package for each guest.
Estroff suggested a great keepsake for the birthday child, regardless of their age or the type of party you choose, is to ask all the guests to video a short message and send it to the child, who will then have a personal, meaningful collection of birthday wishes to save forever and remember their pandemic birthday.
If you are a guest to a party, bring a gift for the birthday child. It is their special day.
Also respect your host’s rules and requests.
Keep it Simple
Don’t get caught up in the hoopla and extra noise. What your child needs is to feel special, to be the center of attention and to connect to their friends and family. It isn’t necessary to make their party into an over-the-top gala.
Remember, you are part of a community. Being part of this Jewish community means that you, your friends and family are connected. It’s important to feel bonded and special. We may be isolated, but we are not alone.
Have confidence in your ability to pull off a meaningful event. Nothing can replace true social interaction, but you can make the day special.
Kids are adaptable. It is natural to want to give your child the best you can during this time to make up for what you feel they have missed. But there is no reason to feel guilty about not having the party your child imagined. It’s OK for that celebration to be different this year. Emphasize the distinction.
Lifestyle writer and mother Lia Picard advised that if your child is old enough, ask and find out what they want and expect. She suggested having the conversation and explaining this is not going to be a typical birthday. Let them know they are special and will be celebrated, just in a nontraditional way.
Estroff shared several different types of parties and suggestions for making each one safe, memorable and fun.
Zoom Party with Interactive Activity
Make sure all devices are charged or plugged in. Before the party, drop off cupcakes, birthday candles, goody bags and craft or project supplies for each guest, enabling them to participate together. The birthday child feels they are all sharing in the party and activities, including blowing out the candles. Everyone can even attend the party in costume.
Choose a theme with perhaps craft projects, virtual face painting or virtual scavenger hunts (finding treats in guests’ backyards or home). Scavenger hunts need to be planned with the guests’ parents in advance, but keep them simple.
Depending on the child’s age, movies could also be streamed as a group activity. You can even host a virtual sleepover with snacks, spa treats and other goodies dropped off for the guests to share.
Drive-By Party Parade
For a drive-by party, decorated cars drive by the birthday house either at one time, scheduled times or in a parade format. As the host, you can decorate the yard and play music. You can even have a special chair decked out just for the birthday guest-of-honor. Have treats such as individually wrapped cupcakes, drinks and a goody bag ready for your guests. Have favors and treats on a table or hand to the guests as they pass.
Jennie Medeiros held a drive-by parade for her twins who turned 10 during the pandemic. Molly and Jesse were treated to a drive-by parade and their guests got to enjoy treats from the King of Pops, who had a cart set up for the parade.
Drive-by parties are perfect for those who want a themed party and love the attention of a parade. For a great keepsake, create a large poster in the yard that guests can personalize using bagged markers or crayons. Each guest draws or writes their special birthday message. If the child would like to open gifts with friends and family on a Zoom call later, that is an additional way to make the day momentous, to see their friends and feel special.
Virtual Tours and Escape Rooms
For this year’s party, your child and friends can visit places from Mount Everest to the Great Wall of China. While touring in real life is not allowed, a party in many famous historic venues, museums, zoos and more are open and available for visiting virtually. Imagine exploring the canals of Venice with your child’s friends!
For a more interactive adventure, you can plan a virtual escape room party with many free themed parties.
If you are planning to host a backyard party, Picard said “be realistic and plan as carefully as possible. Make sure your guests know what precautions are expected” and understand generally that younger children will not socially distance. She advised hosting five people for backyard parties, not 15, and don’t give your guests the opportunity to congregate around the food. Have individual ready-made baskets of food and drinks on each table.
Communicate carefully ahead of time about social distancing and mask requirements. “Fun in a pandemic means preparation and thought.”
Medeiros had a birthday yard party during the pandemic for her 13-year-old Leah. She was supposed to be celebrating her bat mitzvah this summer, but settled for a fabulous gourmet s’mores party instead. Leah’s milestone birthday was open-house style. Understanding that each guest and their family had unique levels of comfort, mom Jennie asked each to wear a mask. While guests were seated, they could remove their masks, but if someone was moving around or cooking their s’mores, masks were worn. Because of the open-house style, only a handful of people were together at one time. There was a firepit for the s’mores and the guests were seated in a circle at least 6 feet apart. All the s’mores ingredients were individually wrapped, and each had their own supplies.
Recognizing birthdays and other simchas pandemic-style are bright spots to be celebrated. Enjoy the moment and observe the occasions – together and apart.