If you’ll be celebrating your birthday in quarantine, read this.

Blowing out birthday candles while under quarantine can still feel special. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for socially distanced birthdays, according to the experts.


By Alyssa Morlacci | @alyssamorlacci

April 6, 2020


Weeks before her 27th birthday, Amanda Oswald planned to celebrate at a French restaurant in New York City, blowing out candles while surrounded by friends. Little did she know that, on the big day, she would instead be recently furloughed from her job and locked down in a city that has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in America.


Within the confines of this grim new reality, Oswald admits that she didn’t expect to have an “incredibly special day that I will cherish for years to come, despite the unfortunate realities of the situation.”


Recently, American lives — and mass gatherings — have ground to a halt. In New York City, movement has decreased by 100 percent since officials began issuing orders to stay indoors as the pandemic engulfed the city, according to the New York Times. The White House has called on Americans to cancel gatherings of 10 or more people, though experts say it’s vital to forego nonessential groupings altogether.


Given all that, Oswald was surprised to be greeted by the birthday plans her roommates had in store for her on Monday, March 30.


She awoke to find the living room decorated, fresh cinnamon rolls waiting on the kitchen table, and both roommates presenting gifts. Throughout the day, she received video messages from friends and family who’d coordinated for her to receive them every half hour.


The key to celebrating a birthday from a distance is thoughtfulness, says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert in San Diego, and founder of The Swann School of Protocol. “Make sure to, rather than sending just a quick text and emoji, set up a time for video chat or a video greeting if you can’t schedule a time,” she says.


Because many people are distracted with the current crisis, she notes that people with upcoming birthdays should reframe their expectations, and that there’s no shame in planning your own Zoom call like you would a party. “I think you can still be a great virtual hostess,” she says.


Swann suggests ordering delivery for your attendees; making it memorable with some sort of game, like a scavenger hunt on guests’ cell phones; keeping the conversation light and not rehashing frustrations everyone’s feeling; and putting a timeframe on it, like you would an in-person event, in order to avoid keeping friends and family hostage.


When it comes to gifting, Swann says it’s best to send a virtual card as well as a money gift through an app like Zelle, since the majority of people could use money right now and the transfer is bank-to-bank, meaning that there’s no need to worry about contamination.


However, if you prefer to send a physical gift, Swann says to send something the recipient can enjoy now, like a bottle of wine or Champagne, through a grocery service, or take-out from their favorite restaurant.


Oswald says she received deliveries like these throughout the day on her birthday from her favorite local businesses: bagels from Tompkins Square, cookies from famed confectionary Levain, birthday cake truffles from Milk Bar. Later on in the evening, she and her roommates dressed in old bridesmaid dresses and got on a Zoom call with all of the friends who’d sent her video messages throughout the day. They presented her with a French-inspired cake to make up for the birthday meal they all had to miss.


“I think if there's anything that this pandemic will teach us, it's how powerful human connection is,” she says. “I truly could not have felt more loved on my birthday. If I had to choose between a [French] brunch or this day in quarantine, I'd choose this day in a heartbeat.”

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© 2020 by Alyssa Morlacci and Reed Alexander