A scratchy sequin dress with a pink sash over it. A loud, crowded bar with sticky floors. Shoulder to shoulder against sweaty strangers with a too-sweet, too-expensive cocktail in your hand. You loudly shout “It’s my birthday!” over the deafening roar of “In Da Club” by 50 Cent (which your friends requested just for you) and receive a free shot, or two, or three, in return. After barely making it home, you finish the night in bed with a bucket lying on the floor next to you.
This is, of course, the usual 21st birthday celebration. The sick feeling in the morning is all worth it for all of the fun you had, if you can remember it. In this year, however, with most public spaces closed and gathering in large groups frowned upon, newly legal young adults have been forced to get creative with their parties.
Though a celebration is the goal, a little creativity never hurts. Here are some examples of guidelines to keep in mind when you plan your next celebration — even better if it’s your 21st birthday.
Be flexible with plans.
Senior Camryn Huber has been talking about going to Las Vegas for her 21st since she turned 14. As the pandemic raged on throughout the spring, it became clear to Huber that her plans that were seven years in the making might have to be readjusted from her May 11 birthday last year.
“I eventually came to terms with it, knowing it was out of my control, but initially it was pretty heartbreaking,” Huber said.
Instead of the trip they’d planned, Huber’s family ended up hosting a “Vegas pregame party” at Vinyl Taco in Sioux Falls as a way to honor what should have been. The celebration ended up perfect because most of those who would have been going to Las Vegas were in town to celebrate.
“I’m not one to go out and party and never have been,” Huber said. “So the fact that it was chill, and I didn’t spend my 21st puking out of an Uber in a city where what happens there stays there was actually OK now looking back at it.”
Socially distance whenever possible.
When most people think 21, they think pub crawls. Senior Grace Doeden wasn’t far off, celebrating with what her family dubbed a “porch crawl.” They spent the evening on March 30, 2020, hopping around her hometown of Beresford, South Dakota, where her parents had recruited various family friends to leave a shot for Doeden on their porches.
In return, her family brought special birthday shots for those who participated: Bailey’s Irish cream with a chocolate chip cookie shot glass. The families would then take their shots together from a safe distance, keeping the “spirit” in the celebration without getting too close.
“It was definitely not what I expected, but I’m grateful for my family trying to make it the best they could,” Doeden said.
Make it virtual.
Junior Grace Douglas had been planning on a small indoor celebration with friends for her Dec. 8 birthday, a time when the pandemic had been slowing down, and it was no longer nice enough to be outside. Her plans were upended when one of those friends came down with COVID-19 four days prior.
Though Douglas wasn’t a close contact, a few of the other people she was planning on celebrating with were now in quarantine. Her small in-person party turned into an evening on Zoom to drink, chat and play online games, while Douglas was in her hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota, and her friends quarantined in their Sioux Falls house.
It was different than expected, which seems to be a theme for the past year, but Douglas said that the delayed celebration will all be worth it in the end.
“With most things that have been canceled because of the pandemic, they will be even more meaningful when we get to do them again,” Douglas said. “I’m looking forward to going out with my friends when the pandemic is over, and we’re all 21.”
When in doubt, think outside the box.
For junior Callin Naddy, her 21st birthday didn’t look much different than what she expected it would have been. Her birthday is on Dec. 24. Combined with Naddy’s indifference toward big parties, she had already been anticipating a smaller celebration than most.
“I just kind of always assumed that my 21st would be pretty chill—focused on Christmas and that sort of thing,” Naddy said.
Naddy refers to her celebration as “21 for 21.” Naddy and her dad biked 21 miles around their hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, in honor of her 21st birthday. The track and cross country athlete notes that though she is a runner, 21 miles of running was “absolutely not on the table” for her celebration. So, they biked. For one hour and 30 minutes.
Naddy and her father were lucky enough to find Zwei Brewing, a German-style brewery, halfway down the trail where Naddy could have her first beer —ever. Naddy said the beer was good, but she was more excited about having turned 21 and biking than she was to actually drink it. The bartender picked her beer for her, but Naddy said next time she goes, she will pick what she wants.
“I definitely feel for the people who do want big, huge celebrations because that would be a tough turn around,” Naddy said. “But for me, this was honestly probably close to what I’d have done anyway, so I was happy.”