How to celebrate birthdays, holidays and special occasions when you can’t be together

How to Celebrate Birthdays, Holidays and Special Occasions When You Can’t Be Together

We’ve all had to get a little more creative when it’s time to celebrate our loved ones and we’re not in the same city, state or even country. How do you make a birthday feel like a big deal—especially when it’s a milestone? How do you celebrate a faraway mom on Mother’s Day? And how do you make a special occasion feel really special?

We’re sharing a few inventive, caring suggestions from friends and coworkers here, and suggesting some of our own. We hope you’ll add your own twist and make some truly meaningful moments for your family and friends, no matter where they are.

Inspired? Create and share by tagging @Hallmark.

How to celebrate birthdays when you cannot be together  

Birthday presents - How to Celebrate Birthdays, Holidays and Special Occasions When You Can’t Be Together

From online surprise parties to easy-but-over-the-top decorations, here are some loving ways to make birthdays memorable when traveling or large, in-person events aren’t an option.

Throw a Birthday Surprise Party

“For my friend’s 40th birthday, we’re doing a Zoom surprise party. He thinks he’s going to chat with just one of his friends, but when he joins the meeting, there’ll be about 30 people waiting for him.” – John W.

“My wife Cori’s birthday is this Saturday. Our 13-year-old, Zoe, created an invitation for a surprise parade through the cul-de-sac. She’s going to tell her mom she and the neighbor girl are going for a walk. They’re going to walk to the park down the street where about twenty cars full of Cori’s friends, in-town family, and co-workers will gather. Then Zoe will race home and Cori’s best friend will lead the caravan up to our house. I’ll have Cori outside somehow and Zoe will serve as grand marshal leading the cars, with Cori’s parents on FaceTime so they can participate from afar. The whole thing was Zoe’s idea.” – Zach L.

“We had a Zoom birthday party for my father-in-law, Gary, in early April. We really didn’t do anything special—just chatted and hung out for an hour and a half. I played with my cat for part of the time, which was entertaining for the teenagers on the call. I noticed my niece and nephew quietly tuning out and trickling away at different times, too. I think that’s the best, when virtual meetings can be casual like that without the need for everyone to be ‘on’ at every moment.” – Keely C.

Make the experience meaningful  

“We had to cancel my son’s 5th birthday party. Instead, we filled the living room with balloons the night before so he’d see them as soon as he woke up in the morning, I made him a four-layer cake, and we sang to him at lunch and let him open gifts from us and our out-of-town family. And he got to choose what he wanted to eat all day—which turned out to be a weird amount of pickles.” – Melissa W.

“The only holiday I’ve come up with a virtual plan for so far is [my husband’s] birthday. We always travel for a National Park hiking trip/vacation, which won’t happen this year. So I’m planning to take advantage of the virtual National Park tours that are offered. If the weather is good, we’ll hike around here. If it’s not, we’ll plan an indoor picnic with some of our favorite hiking snacks. In the past I’ve made photo books from our trips, and I’m hoping to catch up on last year’s to give as one of his gifts.” – Alyssa D.

Create super-personal birthday gifts  

“I have a dear friend’s 80th birthday coming up toward the end of the month. So what her daughter has decided to do is to have us all create videos that she will combine together as a surprise for her mother. It isn’t quite the same as being there, but it’s the best we can do.” – Joan V.

“I made a homemade card, wrapped a present using the grocery store print ad, and opened a cookbook and tried a new recipe in order to make the celebration still happen. Getting creative with what you have on hand and it helps to lift you out of the doldrums.” – AnnaLisa L.

“It was my nephew’s birthday yesterday and my mother-in-law organized a big gathering for extended family on Zoom. Each individual family prepared a little something for him: Some made cards, some played an instrument, some showed off LEGO creations, etc., and we took turns sharing them.” – Anita S

“For a 5-year-old’s birthday, I had a video created of my friend’s son dressed up as Spiderman. ‘Spidey’ is going to text his mom with the video today.” – Holley M.

How to celebrate mom from a distance  

MOM written with flowers - How to Celebrate Birthdays, Holidays and Special Occasions When You Can’t Be Together

Whether you live down the road, across the hall, or are a pro at long-distance hugs with your mama, there are lots of ways to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Love is stronger than any amount of separation—and we’ve got lots of ways to make a meaningful connection.

Of course, you can use any of the above ideas for birthdays to celebrate Mother’s Day when you’re apart. But here are a few more:

“My mother is 80, and if necessary I would make the three-hour drive from my place to hers to wish her Happy Mother’s Day through the window. If she’s up for it and weather permits, I’ll invite her to morning tea and breakfast on the back patio. I’m sure she would be happy with a card and a phone call—she’s happy to be thought of—but I’ll make the extra effort to be as close to her as I’m able.” – Kevin D.

“I sent my mom an early Mother’s Day gift—a rotating compost bin—so she can enjoy her gift now while cooped up at home! Eating from a cultivated garden, sustainably using her food waste, and spending time in her backyard are all things I hope can brighten this weird time.” – Anna D.

“My mom and I live 10 hours away from each other, so we’ve spent many Mother’s Day holidays apart. I wish I could see her more often during the year, but I try to be there for her by surprising her with something that’ll warm her heart: framing an old family photo or conspiring with my dad to pick up flowers or some sort of fancy dessert from a local restaurant. One thing I like to do is write my late brother’s name at the end of my cards, because I know she misses him and likes to see him included still. On a lighter note, she also receives some very well-written cards from her granddog.” – Kat S.

“This is our first Mother’s Day as new moms. And even though it’s going to be an odd one, I still want it to be special. Thinking it will be a lot of homemade things: homemade meals, homemade cards, and a homemade gift.” – Lindsay B.

How to celebrate Dad from a distance  

Dad written in stars for ways to celebrate dad from a distance

Can you tweak one of the birthday or Mother’s Day ideas above for Dad? Sure. Or you could put your own spin on one of these ideas:

“My dad is a storyteller with lots of idiosyncrasies. This makes it easy to ‘roast’ him and he loves it. It would be fun for us to do a family group FaceTime just to recount memories and laugh. I can see us playing ‘Guess what Dad story this is—hint, you’ve heard it a 100 times’ or just reenacting some of our favorite memories of him.” – Katie W.

“We will actually be with Andy this year! But during deployments, we sent cards, photos, small gifts—always mailed several weeks ahead of time.” – Shannon D.

“Virtual chocolate tasting!” – Lisa V.

“I will probably do yard work and chores and send my dad photos. That’s the kind of stuff we always did together as a family and asking his advice on that sort of thing in my own home makes him happy.” – Kaitlin J.

“Yard games on Zoom!” —Elizabeth A.-R.

“My husband will definitely get to sleep in and we’ll order takeout from a fun local restaurant so he won’t have to cook.” – Lori L.

“I’ll send my dad a bottle of port. And I’ll get my sister to FaceTime me when her family gets together with our parents: I can join them from my patio and give a toast to our father.” –Trish B.

One request from a Dad that may be especially appropriate for long-distance celebrations:

“No-Shower Sunday!” – Jeremy D.

How to celebrate high school graduation when school is out  

Grad Tassels - How to Celebrate Birthdays, Holidays and Special Occasions When You Can’t Be Together

Students grow up believing their senior year will be one to remember—but not for the reasons 2020 has brought. Many seniors are grieving for the events they’re missing, the friends they can’t spend time with, and the ceremony that signals the start of adulthood. For college students, the celebration of their hard work will be delayed or cancelled.

And that means the ones who love them are getting creative to make sure graduation is a milestone to remember and graduates feel honored and celebrated. Here are some creative substitutions for final-semester events:

“My daughter’s senior year has been filled with a lot of big life changes. As she prepares for the future, I want her to have something meaningful and constant. I plan on giving her a piece of her late grandmother’s jewelry as a reminder that our family will always be there for her.”  – Jon S.

“Two of my granddaughters had their talent show planned for next week at their school. Of course, that, along with graduation, birthday parties, play dates, visiting, and sleepovers, etc., has gone the way of the wind. So I had them perform their show via FaceTime.” – Susan F.

“Prom was last weekend for my son. He’s a junior in high school. I made him a paper crown, crowned him king and while he stood out my sunroof waving, I drove around the neighborhood honking. We played dance music while I made dinner and then watched a ’90s prom movie.” – Katie L.

Ideas for an at-home graduation ceremony  

Turn dinner into an at-home graduation ceremony. You can keep it to the immediate family or bring relatives and friends in via Skype or Zoom. You can:

  • Decorate with school colors and photos of the graduate.
  • Make or order the graduate’s favorite dinner and dessert.
  • Spotlight the graduate: Ask them to deliver a speech, show highlight videos of sports or performances, or play a slide show of special moments from their life so far.
  • Appoint yourself to give the commencement address, personalized for your student. (If you need a little inspiration, start with these tips on how to give a toast.) Or look online for an address by someone they admire.
  • Finish by letting your student read their graduation cards and open their gifts. (Here are lots of ideas for choosing a meaningful gift, creative ways to give cash, and idea starters for what to write in a card.)

Closing thoughts  

We can’t deny that celebrations with family and friends are fun and exciting. But at heart, they’re about thinking of others, encouraging one another, and reminding those we love how much they mean. With a little extra planning and thought, we can give any celebration meaning and make it memorable—no matter how far apart we are.

Let us know how you’ve made someone’s special day even more special—share on social media and tag @Hallmark.