Operation Facetime Fiesta: a virtual birthday celebration


Gabi Rodriguez

On April 17th, 2020, I threw my first online birthday party via Zoom.

Currently, reality is like the bag of frozen peas at the bottom of your freezer: frozen and never to leave the confines of its residence. Yet, just because life has seemingly paused doesn’t mean that the world has stopped spinning. The clocks still tick, the days still crawl forward, and evidently, the birthdays are ever-so approaching. During these times of self-isolation, may I present to you my experience hosting a classic birthday celebration- gone virtual. 

During the month of April, two of my dear friends- CVHS sophomores and fellow Upstream News reporters Vivian Huynh and Esha Sharma- turned 16 years old! What was supposed to be a day of family, friends, and frenzied celebration ended up being a day with a decent amount of texts, emails, and other spirited social media salutations. However, I wanted them to remember their quarantine-edition birthdays, with more of an enlivening element, so I threw them an online birthday party.

The first matter of importance for “Operation Facetime Fiesta” was to gather contenders, so I contacted fellow classmates and friends of the celebrants Shaun Wood, Andrew Mai, and Katherine Linares. Everyone was on board, so the six of us proceeded to set an agreed-upon date and time.

The next matter of importance was our “virtual location.” I debated among video conference platforms Zoom, Houseparty, and Microsoft Teams, and I ended up choosing Zoom. The software allowed for everyone’s faces to be displayed simultaneously and didn’t require the downloading of an app or for participants to create an account in order to join, aside from the host. Unlike Zoom, Microsoft Teams cannot fit everyone’s profiles onto one screen, and both Teams and Houseparty require a pre-existing account. 

Now that I had a guest list and a venue, I needed to concoct a lively entertainment. Thankfully, I spend my days procrastinating by perusing the internet, and a clip from Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show came to mind. In the clip, the participants played a game where everyone was asked to write down a few facts about themselves beforehand, which were later read out one-by-one. In each round, players would have to guess who wrote what down. Inspired, I asked my attendees to text me some of their weirdest and most embarrassing moments for our own take on this game.

The hour of the party arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday, April 17th, and to my pleasant surprise, it came as a success. Everyone was able to join the Zoom conference seamlessly, and the connection remained strong and generally glitch-free. As soon as everyone was on and all beginning of the bash buzz had been settled, I introduced them to the tonight show-inspired game. I read out my first anecdote, and everyone voted out loud for who they thought wrote it, after snickering at the one who “almost flooded their bathroom” on account of a bug. I even discovered a zoom feature that allowed me to spotlight the culprit of each story. The spotlight would enlarge whomever’s screen and shove the other members’ screens around its border, revealing their identity while they guiltily recapped their worst tales.We were exposed to a spectrum of each other’s odd experiences that day, from painfully awkward car rides to pizza-provoked fistfights. 

Revealing my modified birthday dessert: the birthday banana.

Being a birthday celebration, I eventually had to commence the iconic “Happy Birthday” song. To simulate the birthday vibes, I brought a festive dessert on camera, which consisted of a radiant yellow banana with a flickering candle planted in the middle. It was scrappy, but it managed to fulfill its job of distracting everyone while we started to burst out in an off-key, but a sprightly musical number.

In my experience assembling this virtual gathering, I learned how a decent amount of effort and spirit can make a difference in making our new normal somewhat familiar during a time with no guidelines. It was neither costly nor elaborately planned, the wifi connection was consistently unwavering, the knowledge I gained about my friends was unforgettable, and the festive energy was vibrant. Not only did this prove that virtual functions can be readily assembled with the preparation of effective resources and clear communication, but it showed me how this time of isolation fails to restrain our excitement for each other’s milestones. For those moments we spent in cyber celebration, it almost felt like reality had unpaused again.