As the UK heads into a second week of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, one writer explains what it’s really like to celebrate your birthday right now.
Turning 23 during a country-wide lockdown and global pandemic wasn’t something I had on my bucket list, but it’s one experience I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
When I first found out my birthday (28 March) was going to fall on a Saturday, the day I conjured up in my mind largely consisted of a pub crammed with my best mates. What it ended up looking like was, of course, pretty different – celebrating a birthday in quarantine doesn’t, it turns out, leave you with many options.
My family (who I’m spending lockdown with) did all they could to try and make this birthday as good as any other. There was a delicious breakfast to start, a government mandated walk filled with lots of laughter (and appropriate social distancing) and a birthday cake Mum had managed to pick up in Sainsbury’s on her bi-weekly essentials shop.
My boyfriend, who is isolating with his family, even got to sing me happy birthday and watch me blow out my candles thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and my friends, colleagues and extended family sent me loads of lovely messages and cards.
But of course, behind all of the fun and makeshift celebration, it was hard to escape the reality we’re all facing right now.
There’s something rather surreal about having birthday messages pop up on your phone alongside breaking news alerts about the coronavirus death toll. Having happy birthday sung to you by your friends is actually made all the more sweeter when it’s done over FaceTime, but switching off that call and reading about an NHS worker struggling to cope makes it all feel rather superficial.
And you know what? I was grateful for that feeling of discomfort. Because if celebrating my birthday during lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that I have everything to be grateful for.
I know that I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a family who love me right now. Some people are unable to see their parents, and don’t even know when they’ll get to see them again. Some people are having to self-isolate for 12 weeks or more because they’re at risk of severe illness if they’re infected. And some people are spending lockdown alone.
Then there’s the fact that, at time of writing, my family and friends are healthy. Speaking to my grandparents over the phone in place of being able to visit them wasn’t what either of us would have hoped for, but hearing my Nan laugh despite everything and teaching my Grandma how to use video call (she is now a pro, by the way) was incredibly special.
A group of my closest friends even banded together and managed to light a collective 23 candles from their respective homes in Wales, Yorkshire and London to celebrate me from a distance.
If you were to base my birthday experience on the number of “I’m sorry” and sympathetic “Have you got any plans?” messages I’d received before the day itself, you’d probably think I was going to have a pretty rubbish day.
Even if you’re not celebrating your birthday in lockdown, I’m sure none of us are really enjoying having to stay inside all the time; after all, there’s only so much Animal Crossing you can play and box sets you can binge watch before staring at the ceiling starts to become an appealing form of entertainment.
But the fact of the matter is that staying home is the single most powerful tool we all possess to save lives and protect the NHS – and no matter how inconvenient it may be to have my birthday fall in the middle of a global pandemic, following government advice and staying home is the least I can do when people are risking their lives to help those who fall sick.
If you’re gearing up to celebrate your birthday in lockdown, I’m here to tell you it’s really not that bad. Sure, it might feel weird blowing out your candles to the backdrop of the government’s coronavirus update, but it’s not every day you get to spend your birthday helping to save lives just by staying inside. It’s OK to feel disappointed and deflated – but there are plenty of ways to make the day feel special even if you have to stay home.
To all my fellow Aries babies out there, I wish you a happy birthday no matter how you manage to celebrate. And just remember: when all of this is (finally) over, everyone will want to come to your birthday drinks.
Images: Lauren Geall