by Mariah Moon
If you bore witness to the golden age of MTV (right after they swapped the music videos for reality shows that were as awful as they were amusing), you remember "My Super Sweet Sixteen." The epitome of noughties decadence; teenagers running amok, making demands for cakes, ice sculptures, and gifts. Though, realistically, there was only one acceptable gift for the birthday girl who starred on her respective episode of that show, and it was a very specific brand of car. Her meltdown rivaled that of any infamous "Bridezilla" if things did not go as planned. Growing up middle class, I was never destined to have a super sweet sixteen. I honestly don’t remember my sixteenth birthday party at all, and not because of any teen drinking hijinks, as my friend group’s notorious Prude™.
But I’ll never forget my worst birthday ever. April 12th, 2020, almost a month to the day after Washington, DC’s lockdown to reduce transmission of COVID-19. I was excited for a birthday surprise that hadn’t occurred in years: I would celebrate my day the same day as Easter! Unfortunately, one month before my birthday, the entire city shut down. I planned a Zoom call with a friend who lived in Canada, I bought a pot roast to make myself a Sunday dinner, and I even bought myself a special dress. I chose an old-fashioned aesthetic, a white floral number with a sweetheart neckline, just begging to be fluffed up with a petticoat. As much as I tried to turn a day of isolation into celebration, I realized there was nothing I could do to fix it. I got so drunk on the Zoom call that I ended up talking to someone’s sister on the phone somehow once everyone else fell asleep or logged off. I spent my birthday worrying about my father, hospitalized after a stroke and then a diagnosis of COVID-19 pneumonia just a couple of weeks prior. The pot roast came out dry.
Party planning is hard, even without a pandemic in your way. After hosting the kids' suite at several weddings, I entertained the idea of creating a company that specializes in planning and chaperoning children’s parties. As a professional nanny, it is something I have already had years of experience doing - corralling a bunch of kids with various activities while their parents get drunk in the background.
Even before COVID, celebrations were changing. The DIY/rustic wedding trend began a mainstream takeover of the more illustrious and debt-inducing services. My company holiday party was held at an escape room, a fun departure from the same reservation we made in the banquet room of the chain restaurant across the street. A part of my culture is to make a funeral a celebration of life instead of a dark reminder of our mortality, with worship music instead of a dirge. I have noticed that is becoming a more acceptable practice for others to honor their dead as well through recent years. But an essential part of the funeral is the repast, the meal afterward where, depending on which side of the family, drinking, smoking weed, and laughing along to stories about old times would go on for several hours, until there was nothing left to cry about. This cannot be a part of a Zoom service, and it cannot be done socially distant without embracing and passing the joint and joining hands in prayer.
With another quarantine birthday approaching in April, I am left to wonder what the future of the celebration will look like for me, and for others, as we find our way through this pandemic into a new epoch of our human history. Whether we will continue to watch each other through our screens and cheers separately for months to come, I cannot say. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief at what could be the very last of the era of “destination weddings.” My hope is that we can take that cheesy phrase, “together apart,” give it true significance, reimagining our long held traditions instead of yearning to return to them exactly as they were.
I am reminded of the first New Year’s Eve I spent in an actual relationship, when I was about seventeen. Since neither of our parental units were the type to let us spend a holiday away from our own families at that age, we created a new tradition to replace a lost New Year’s kiss. We were on the phone counting down the ball drop, and at midnight, we both ate a Hershey’s Kiss.
Mariah Moon is a writer from Detroit, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter at @mariahmmoon.
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