50 ways to celebrate a birthday during a pandemic

Dear Mom: You mean the world to me.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t celebrate your 50th birthday in person like we had envisioned earlier this year.

I sit here working from home and quarantining as CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have told us to do.

With so much time at home, I’ve spent hours brainstorming ways to still make your birthday memorable despite not being together. And I came up with a lot of ideas — 50, to be exact.

In honor of your special day, please pick five or 10 or 50 options we can do to celebrate you!

To the rest of the internet: Looking over the list, I can see this working as a gift for your loved ones as well, for birthdays and holidays, and just-because-you’re-special days. (If none of these options call out to you, they can be a jumping-off point for you to brainstorm your own list.)

Now back to Mom: Thank you for always inspiring me to be the best I can be — and now help people around the world come up with ideas to make other people feel special, too.

For the traditionalist

1. Write a letter. The good old pen and paper letter never fails.

2. Pick up takeout from a favorite restaurant. It’s your loved one’s special day. Her belly deserves to be happy, too.

3. Sing happy birthday. Warm up those vocal chords, and don’t forget to use your diaphragm. Practice makes perfect. (Sing it twice and that’s the amount of time you need to wash your hands during a pandemic.)

4. Make a nice bath or a serene spot to nap. Or both. Sometimes the simple things in life are the best things in life.

5. Get a birthday cake. Bake it. Buy it. Eat it ALL DAY LONG.

6. Keep her smiling. If you smile, she’ll likely smile back at you. Smiling is infectious.

7. Create IOU vouchers. Let her decide what she wants you to do for her at a later date.

8. Find a birthday hat. Or sash. Or button. The choices are endless.

9. If you’re quarantining with the birthday gal, clean up the house. Everyone can appreciate a clean living space.

For the tech enthusiast

10. Attend a virtual class together. Dive deeper into her favorite hobby.

11. Send a virtual hug. GIFs, Boomerangs and TikTok videos are all the rage these days.

12. Get her up to speed on how the latest tech trends work. It’s time to answer all of her questions about how the internet really works.

13. Host a virtual game night. Pick your preferred video-chat app, find your favorite online game and may the odds be ever in your favor.

14. Send your loved one a link to a curated playlist of her favorite songs. Now her birthday comes with background music. (Do not judge her tastes. This is her day.)

15. Perfect her video-call setup. Make a picturesque background with good lighting or create a cool virtual one. Get a phone stand or a hard surface that puts the camera at an appropriate eye level.

16. Organize a birthday Zoom call. Now all of her friends and family can join in on the celebration. (Have special surprise guests … if your loved one likes surprises.)

17. Make a video. Compile birthday wishes of people saying nice things about your loved one.

18. Watch a movie together online. Get fancy and use an app like Netflix Party or go old school and have everyone on a video call start the movie at the same time. (Just hope everyone stays in sync.)

19. Create a digital photo album. Allow everyone to contribute their favorite photos of the birthday honoree.

For the adventurous spirit

20. Order a personalized puzzle. Put it together and frame it like the work of art it truly is.

21. Plan a car caravan. Have friends and family drive by the birthday honoree’s house, honking their car horns and holding signs wishing her a happy birthday.

22. Try a new food. Make a dish from a cuisine she has been wanting to try or even set up a homemade wine and cheese tasting.

23. Ask her to show you how she danced back in the day. The party can only go up from there.

24. Take a scenic walk or hike. Grab your masks and practice social distancing if you’re not a part of the same household.

25. Bring the world to your loved one by rounding up a few virtual tours. Explore places she has always wanted to visit. No passport needed.

26. Create a scavenger hunt for her birthday gift. Go easy on the clues. Consider making the hints about the honoree.

27. Test your mixology skills and make a signature birthday drink. Hopefully, it will be so good, she will ask for it next year.

28. Turn the birthday into a “birth week.” Keep the celebrations going for seven days straight.

For the superstar

29. Get a happy birthday yard sign. Spread giant letters across the lawn or settle for a more discreet, modest-size but just as snazzy sign that lets the entire neighborhood know whose birthday it is.

30. Record an interview. She is the star, so make her feel like one. Ask her all of the questions about herself.

31. Plan a photo shoot. Help her channel her inner diva, grab the camera and start snapping. One of those photos is bound to be a good one.

32. Enjoy an at-home spa day. Pamper her with essential oils, a good facial and foot soak and time simply to relax.

33. Have everyone in the house sport a big head cutout. Everywhere she looks, she’ll see the stunning image of herself.

34. Dress up like the birthday honoree. She’ll be amused at how close or far off you are.

35. Paint a portrait of her. It could take a while, but attention to detail is key. You can also go abstract and have her guess who it is.

36. Buy her a birthday outfit. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can’t look nice.

37. Find a celebrity to wish her a happy birthday. Shop around and someone will send your loved one a personalized birthday greeting for a fee.

38. Make birthday T-shirts. Imagine dozens of people across the country wearing her face on a shirt. This is a clothing line in the making.

For the sentimentalist

39. Find some old photos of the two of you. That will really get the waterworks going, especially if they are actual IRL pictures.

40. Write her a song. But make it a happy gratitude-filled song, not a sad pandemic one.

41. Make a family recipe book. It’s a gift that can be passed down from generation to generation.

42. Sketch out the family tree. Remind her that her family history is what has made her who she is today.

43. Ask her to reflect on her greatest accomplishments so far. You might be surprised by what you learn.

44. Make a book about her life. Show how she has grown up and gotten so wise over their years.

45. Write a poem. Yes, a haiku counts.

46. Pledge to call her more regularly. And then do it. We all need some human interaction.

47. Make a list of why you’re grateful for your loved one. How long of a list? Depends on how old (or young) she’s turning.

48. Donate to a charity or cause she cares about. Spread the love by paying it forward.

49. Really talk. And listen. This pandemic has affected us in so many different ways. Let her share what’s on her mind.

50. Remember to say I love you. It may be the last on the list, but it’s the most important one of all.

I love you, Mom. Happy birthday.

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