By REBECCA JONES
For Montclair Local
Though many things have changed in recent weeks, birthdays remain one of the constants. There is no stopping them, no rescheduling them. They fall stubbornly on only one day of the year.
Social distancing has made hosting celebrations hard, but not impossible. People around town are coming up with creative alternatives to traditional parties and are finding themselves pleasantly surprised with the result.
“My husband Wil turned 55 on April 1 and had wanted a party to celebrate, but then COVID-19 happened,” says Montclair resident Ghana Hylton, who organized one such party. “He was pretty bummed because the last big birthday party he had was when he turned 40, and because he didn’t do a big 50th, he wanted to have a big 55th.”
Since that was impossible given the current situation, Hylton asked friends and neighbors to drive or walk by to wish him a happy birthday from afar. “Some decorated their cars or made signs,” she said, “some yelled out their open windows, others stopped and had short conversations while he [Wil] sat on the porch.”
The bigger surprise, however, was waiting for Wil inside, where Hylton had gathered together almost 40 friends and family members via Zoom to scream happy birthday from the big screen TV in their living room.
Wil was amazed. “There were people there who would never have been able to make it to a real party,” he later told his wife.
“He got to see old high school friends, family from California and North and South Carolina, his godson — people he never gets to see,” Hylton said.
The Zoom party lasted more than an hour. “We talked, we had a cake, everyone sang him happy birthday. A friend serenaded him, and we danced. Everyone misses a hug,” she said, “but there was more of a physical connection than we thought. We were tearing up. It was so great to see.”
In a way, people are more connected than ever before because sharing time together is so much easier. You can attend a gathering or celebration without having to leave your own living room. Another benefit for the host is that you don’t have to cook or clean up, except for the room behind you.
Montclair residents Sarah Nahabedian and Richard Douglass found another way to be connected with their community when they threw a sing-along birthday party for their 3-year-old son Alex last week on the front lawn of their downtown apartment complex.
Inviting friends and neighbors to join them, they stood six feet apart in a 50-foot-wide circle and sang some of Alex’s favorite songs. “Alex’s big sister, Juliet, put rocks and leaves out as markers so people knew where to stand so everyone could be safe,” Nahabedian said. “One of the things that made it so special was that there were people there who wouldn’t have normally come — neighbors without kids, people just walking by. We’re all feeling so isolated and disconnected. People wanted to feel part of something and celebrate something.”
Nahabedian and Douglass did not make a cake because they thought it was unsafe to share prepared food, and they didn’t give out party favors or accept gifts, but they could tell their son really liked the party anyway: “He liked seeing everyone he hadn’t seen in a long time.”
Jacob Schachter celebrated his ninth birthday, despite the pandemic, with a “Zoom Sing-along” intended to celebrate Jacob and show the resilience of family, friends and community during a time when everyone’s spirits could use a lift.
Even though the party was online, the Schachters decorated their front lawn with decorations, signs and balloons, with help from event planner Michelle Shuey, so that party-goers who live nearby could see it from their windows. Originally, friends and family planned to drive to Jacob’s home and stand outside of their cars holding signs and balloons while they sang to Jacob, but when Gov. Phil Murphy issued the shelter-in-place order, they decided to move the party online.
Another Montclair resident, Gail Abramowitz, did something special for her friend, Jeanne Krausman, who was turning 95. She organized a cavalcade of friends and neighbors in cars, with the Montclair Police Department bringing up the rear with music, flashing lights, and a policeman speaking through a bullhorn saying, “Happy 95th birthday, Jeanne.”
“The smile on her [Jeanne’s] face said it all,” she wrote the Local.
Montclair resident Aubrey Byrne, who also had a procession of friends in cars come wish
her a happy birthday, said, “It was the best birthday I can remember.” She was resigned to spending her 35th birthday inside with her significant other.
“When I saw the first car driving by I was excited,” Byrne said, “but then when I saw the whole line of 10 cars after that, I cried. I was so overwhelmed. With everyone so stressed and worried about COVID-19, I couldn’t believe they had taken the time. All the effort and thought that went into that. One of my friends came all the way from the Upper East Side.”
Even though they had to remain six feet apart, her friends took pictures and had a little dance party. Byrne said her mom sent cupcakes from Baked Bouquet in Verona, and a friend sent them food from Taqueria.
A pandemic is definitely not the most ideal time for a birthday celebration, but people around town are finding that birthdays are a great excuse to get everyone together, albeit at a distance, and celebrate something good. And everyone could use a little of that right now.