Local event planners Jessie Gillham of Festive Haus and JoBeth McElhanon of Lilias & Olive gave us creative ideas on how to celebrate — even at a distance. We invited their insight on virtual, drive-thru and in-person celebrations, and they gave us a host of great ideas. 

LRF: What are some ways to make virtual celebrations special? 

  1. Send invites: “Sending electronic invitations is a fun and easy way to formalize a virtual celebration,” Gillham says. Bonus points for customizing your invites to fit your theme. 

  2. Make a party playlist: “Music sets the tone for any party — even virtual ones!” Gillham says. “For a fun spin on your virtual party, put together a playlist that participants can listen to leading up to and during the video call.” 

  3. Share a slideshow: For a birthday or graduation party, Gillham suggests creating a slideshow that you can watch together as part of your festivities. 

  4. Create a party background: McElhanon acknowledges that virtual parties can be a little awkward. She suggests “designing a backdrop in your home that you can photograph and send to participants to set as their background. This creates a feel of sharing the same space during the celebration.”

  5. Plan a group activity: “Create or purchase individual kits of ingredients to build a pizza, decorate a cookie or cake or build a craft.” You can have these delivered to guests and you (or an expert) can lead the group through a hands-on project. “This can feel more cohesive and the end results can be something fun and entertaining to share on screen,” McElhanon says. 

  6. Send gifts: Both party planners agreed that sending gifts for a shower honoree to open on screen is a must for virtual showers.“It’s nice for the honoree to be able to still thank people ‘in person,’” Gillham says. 

  7. Make a toast: Another uplifting activity: “Guests can take turns toasting and sending best wishes to the bride or mom-to-be,” McElhanon suggests. 

LRF: What are some ways to make drive-by parties and showers special? 

  1. Decorate your yard: Gillham suggests using “balloons, streamers, banners (really, whatever décor you have at home)” to punch up your drive-by party. You can get pros involved with custom balloon garlands (which Gillham creates for all ages), large yard signs from Yarddazzles and Hollywood lights from Alpha Lit AR.

  2. Pass out favors: Both planners suggested handing out favors! Just make sure that they are individually wrapped and handed out while practicing social distancing. 

  3. Kick it up a notch: McElhanon says elements like music and a bubble machine are easy ways to create and enhance a festive atmosphere. 

LRF: If someone does want to host an in-person event, do you have any ideas about how to follow social distancing while maintaining a festive feel? 

Keep kid celebrations virtual for now: Gillham starts with a word of caution, “It's tough for kids to social distance.” In her book, it may not be time to host in-person events for families.  

Five Guidelines for Adult-Only Gatherings: 

McElhanon offered five ways to practice social distancing at a celebration. 

  1. Stay outside: "Outdoor events lend themselves much easier to social distancing."

2. Remember the basics: 


    • Have hand sanitizer available in multiple spots.
    • Keep entrances and exits separate and free from crowding by marking off six foot spacing on your walkways.
    • Have masks made that match your event decor and have them available for guests.
  1. Assign seats: "Provide enough seating for your guests and encourage family groups to sit together. While table assignments are often reserved for larger events, these smaller events can benefit from place cards — which can be a fun way to carry out your theme or design."

  2. Forego a guest book: Get creative and have guests provide a video message that can be compiled. 

  3. Skip buffet service: “For food, I would definitely encourage using a caterer or plating food in place of a treat table typically found at showers. Invest in beautiful paper plates and napkins that tie to your theme and have access to a trash receptacle for guests to dispose of their own plates and cups, reducing the chance of contamination.”

Two Easy Get-Togethers 

Gillham outlines two fun ways to safely spend time with friends. 

  1. Bring back tailgate parties: “Invite friends to gather in a nearby parking lot or your neighborhood and pop open the tailgates. Park so that the back of your cars face each other and you can safely maintain the 6 feet distance while socializing with friends. What a fun excuse to get out of the house!”  

  1. Host driveway drinks: “Invite friends over for happy hour in your driveway or front yard. Ask them to bring chairs and their favorite drink. With people/couples spread apart, you don’t have to worry about sharing food or germs, just good times with friends!” 

The party doesn’t stop here: connect with these event planners on Instagram (@thefestivehaus and @liliasandolive) for theme inspo, planning tips and more!