A wise person once said you should never turn down a birthday party invitation for anyone over the age of 80. That’s a milestone that can’t be ignored. But during the age of the novel coronavirus, how does one celebrate? By Zoom, of course. So, when Malibu resident Ellie Somerfield turned 90 years old this week, her family was not about to let this momentous occasion go by without a (virtual) celebration.

Somerfield’s grandson Ari planned the party using Zoom, but there are other platforms available. In Somerfield’s case, 37 people were invited and 60 showed up, thanks to couples and families quarantined together. The higher attendance pleasantly surprised Ari. 

For this party, guests were asked in advance to submit video tributes to Ellie. Her grandson and a friend then compiled the tributes for a video that was played after everyone checked in. The host then unmuted guests one at a time to deliver birthday wishes live. Ellie then blew out a candle on a small festive cake after “Happy Birthday” was sung in chorus. 

“I miss the hugs,” she said, but, “I feel fortunate.”

Internet birthday parties can work as Somerfield’s did this week. Though we’d much rather celebrate in person, there are a few boons. Guests can come from all over. Somerfield’s guests’ locations ranged from Malibu, Northern California, Israel and New York.

Although you will probably spend less time preparing a virtual party, it’s important to actually prepare. That means you may have to walk guests through instructions on using the site you’ve chosen beforehand. Luckily, the vibrant and active celebrant Somerfield had already been using Zoom for classes and activities since quarantining in her home.

Here are some tips, too: Don’t forget it’s a party. Be festive have decorations in the background or fashion a festive Zoom background, especially if there’s a theme. Get out of your pajamas or pandemic sweatpants and dress up for the occasion. Don’t forget to take pictures, even if they’re just screen shots. Leave guests with great memories or a surprise of some sort, like a special guest or cake delivery to the celebrant. 

Virtual parties may cost less, too, since the host cannot provide food and drinks. You’ll probably send email invitations that are easy and at no cost. In Somerfield’s case guests were invited “pants optional.” But remember, even if you don’t wear pants, do wear something festive. After all, you only turn 80, 90 or even 100 once. Pandemic or not, that’s something to celebrate.  Oh, and Somerfield’s tips on aging gracefully to 90: “Find things you love to do. And have lots of friends. I feel blessed.

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