There’s no doubt about it – the pandemic has done quite the number on all of us. In a time filled with sadness, confusion, and despair, making a big deal out of birthdays was not a priority for many of us. I am writing this article from a position of relative privilege because I have not been as personally affected by the events of the pandemic as much as others. Because of this, I could spare time and energy planning birthdays, and I had some amazing collaborators who helped out on these projects as well. Hopefully, this will serve as a springboard of sorts to help people get low budget ideas for how to make birthdays special during this time.

A tried and tested way of wishing friends virtually is making a video of their loved ones talking about how much they mean to them, or making a compilation of funny clips and photos of themselves. Since those are fairly common, I have not included those in my list. Here are five (extremely low budget) ways I made my friends’ lockdown birthdays special.

1. We made a lip-synced music video:

Little kid being fabulous at karaoke
[Little kid flips her hair dramatically while doing karaoke] via Giphy
This was the first rather grand gesture I was part of during the lockdown. The birthday was at the end of April, so we began planning about two weeks beforehand. The idea was to take a song that my friend Anjali* loved, and get as many friends and family to lip-sync a few lines so we could put the clips together as a music video. I planned this with my friend Nirel, and the whole thing was done virtually. We divided Anjali’s friend list between the both of us and sent them instructions and a Drive link. 

Everyone on our lists rose to the occasion admirably, and their videos were so fun! They used props, dorky dances and inside joke references to make their clips hilarious and endearing. 

On the big day, we sent the finished video to Anjali’s brother, who played it on their TV at midnight. Anjali was completely taken by surprise and loved it!

Verdict: This method costs absolutely no money, but you will need a lot of time to follow up with people, and someone to put the clips together.

2. We wrote an original song:

Adele reading a book titled 'How to write a good song'
[Gif Description: Adele reading a book titled “How to write a good song”] via Giphy
My friend Nirel turned 21 in September. To commemorate the occasion, our friends worked together to write a song that was all about her and what she meant to us. My friend Rolland (who is a verified artist on Spotify) came up with the melody, and my friend Kenn produced the whole thing! On Nirel’s birthday, we played the song in the background of a compilation of her pictures and videos, and showed it to her on Zoom.

Verdict: This method cost us nothing as well, but I know you may be thinking, ‘Hannah, that’s great for you, but we can’t all pull singer-songwriters out of hats.’ I hear you, friend. I added this instance to encourage people to look at what talents they have already and use those to their advantage. Do you write poetry? Write a poem about your friend! Can you draw? Make a sketch! Better yet, make a compilation book of drawings or poetry from your friend’s loved ones, regardless of talent levels. I’m sure the results will be hilarious and heartwarming.

3. We compiled a book of life advice:

Keira Knightley reading a book
[Gif Description: A woman walks while reading a book] via Giphy
For my cousin’s 21st birthday, her sister and I decided to ask our immediate family members and a few close friends to write her a total of 21 letters of life advice. We made up the titles, and a lot of them were tailored to her personality. Examples included, ‘Open when you’re mad at the patriarchy’, ‘Open when you’re traveling alone’ and ‘Open when you’re overthinking’. We received the messages through text, wrote them out by hand, put them in pretty DIY envelopes, and stuck the envelopes on the pages of a scrapbook. That way they were all in one place, which made it less likely that they would get lost. Needless to say, she absolutely loved her gift.

Verdict: This was my personal favorite gift. Not only was it free, but it was like she carried a piece of all her family members in that book. 

4. We sent word puzzles:

Winston from New Girl singing 'puzzling, Winston is about to do some puzzling'
[Gif Description: Winston from New Girl singing ‘puzzling, Winston is about to do some puzzling’] via GIPHY
For my friend Kai’s* birthday, we did something that may sound tricky but is actually quite simple. First, we decided on a sentence that had the same number of words as there were people involved. In our case, we had fifteen people, and the sentence was “Here is some love for you to piece together. Happy birthday Kai, thinking of you!” On a standard size letter (we chose 6×6), we wrote cute notes on one side, and on the other side, we wrote our assigned word in big bold letters. Then we mailed these letters to Kai’s house separately and instructed them to only open the letters once they had all arrived. On the day, Kai could open the letters and get fifteen individual notes, but also piece together the flip sides to make up one big message too!

Verdict: The only cost involved is any incurred for postage, otherwise this option is free as well! You can of course customize this idea to include photos or anything else you might want to add. 

5. We ripped off the Kasoor music video:

Child cups their face in their hands in an 'aww' expression
[Image Description: Child cups their face in their hands in an ‘aww’ expression] via Giphy
If you haven’t seen Prateek Kuhaad’s Kasoor video already, you should drop everything and go watch it right now. For the most recent birthday that we planned, we customized the Kasoor concept for our friend Phebe on her birthday. Like in the original music video given below, with a song that she liked in the background, we got her friends to react to different scenarios that we gave them, like ‘When you first met Phebe’ or ‘When Phebe starts talking about missing Dubai’. Our friends were a riot and turned in some very funny reactions. I loved the end result!

Verdict: This is an easy but creative and personal video to make for your friends. The clips are silent and need to be only a few seconds long, so you can easily get this done over the weekend if everyone cooperates.

I would love to know if you decide to use any of the ones I’ve mentioned here. As you can see, none of these projects cost much and they’re the embodiment of the phrase ‘it’s the thought that counts’. At the end of the day, we want our loved ones to feel special, so it’s important to keep their wishes in mind for their birthdays. If they don’t like surprises, go another route! Either way, let them know they’re loved. Goodness knows we all need it after the year we’ve had.

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  • Hannah Rachel Abraham

    Hannah Abraham is your average twenty something arts student with a BA in English, Political Science and History. Her creative spurts occasionally materialize into writing and her work has been featured on publications like The Week and Cultured Vultures. She is super into Broadway musicals, correcting people's grammar, and one day landing the role of Aravis in a Narnia adaptation.