Sahar Jurdi had been planning a special first birthday party for her firstborn child in March 2020 – complete with an elaborate cake for the baby to smash in a fit of joy in front of friends and family – when the COVID-19 pandemic halted her preparations.
As the calendar turned to Oliver’s second birthday last March, public health measures once again dampened plans for a sizeable celebration. But now that restrictions on gatherings are being lifted across Canada, the Toronto mom is hoping to make up for two missed parties with a big party.
About 20 children from Oliver’s daycare are expected to attend the event at Jurdi’s house in a couple of weeks, with an actor dressed as Winnie-the-Pooh and a bubble show booked for entertainment.
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“We’re turning the basement into a playground,” she said. “We’re catching up on two years without celebrating.”
Ontario lifted capacity restrictions for all indoor spaces on March 1 as public health indicators for COVID-19 appeared to show a slowdown in the omicron wave.
As restrictions ease and spring welcomes renewed optimism, many parents are feeling the urge to throw copious parties for their March and April babies after two previous birthdays transformed by the pandemic.
But others still seem reluctant to plan large gatherings.
Elvine Assouline, CEO of party planning service The Fun Master, said in-person party bookings for his Toronto-area company, which specializes in children’s events, are still not at pre-pandemic levels.
Assouline quickly transitioned to virtual services early in the pandemic. Two years later, he said, many parents are still choosing online alternatives.
Though he’s received many inquiries about spring dates since restrictions were lifted, Assouline said he’s noticed the same trend during the ebbing of other waves of the pandemic.
“We’re seeing some fatigue for virtual parties because I think everyone is fed up with Zoom. So if they can have it personally, they will,” he said. “But we also have a lot of questions about our cancellation policy.
“People plan comfortably as long as they’re told, ‘If things change, we can reschedule or switch to something virtual.’
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Assouline understands the sentiment some parents need to celebrate bigger and bolder this year, but he said he hasn’t seen a noticeable turnaround, adding that customers have always had different price ranges and ideas about what they want for their children’s events .
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“I don’t see a shift that says, ‘Hey, I want to spend more money this year because I didn’t last year,'” he said.
“You really can’t catch up on birthdays… They just have to go ahead and try to plan something cool for their (current) party.”
Kristy Frasier, mom to a nearly nine-year-old girl in Toronto, isn’t sure how she’ll be celebrating her daughter’s April 15 birthday.
Frasier, who has an immunocompromised brother, wants her daughter to throw a big party after missing her seventh and eighth birthday celebrations. But health remains an issue.
“I’ve been obsessing over it lately because I don’t know what we’re comfortable with yet,” said Frasier, deciding between a big pizza party at a trampoline park or a smaller gathering with no food.
Frasier had planned a modest family celebration for her daughter’s eighth birthday last April, but the rising delta wave forced her to turn the event into a “brief interaction” outdoors instead.
Her daughter’s first pandemic birthday of 2020 was marked by a video call with friends and family, who were dropping gifts on Frasier’s doorstep.
“She was really good. She understands that things can’t be the way she would like them to be,” Frasier said. “But she’s usually more of a party person, so lately she’s been[asking]’Can we have a party, please? Can we? Can we?”‘
dr Sheri Madigan, a clinical psychologist and child development expert at the University of Calgary, said birthday celebrations can be exciting milestones for kids, but parents shouldn’t feel pressured to catch up on celebrations lost to the pandemic.
She found that some children’s well-being at loud, large-scale events may have changed after two years without experiencing them.
“Kids won’t remember big birthday parties, but parents will probably feel like something was organized, and I think that’s important,” she said. “But we have to take the kids’ lead in terms of what they’re ready for.”
Jurdi knows her three-year-old won’t remember the low-key parties that marked his first two birthdays, but she was still sad to miss out on those memories for herself.
She also feels the pandemic has made it difficult for Oliver to have other social experiences, including traveling abroad to meet relatives.
“Remember he’s only three,” Jurdi said. “But for a three-year-old before COVID, life was quite different.”
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