Celebrations have looked a lot different over the past year. But if anything, that’s a testament to how creative we can be in the face of unforeseen circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented us from attending in-person birthday parties of loved ones, but health and safety restrictions have led us to develop new ways of gathering. One option — a great alternative to a Zoom party — is the drive-by birthday parade. Keep reading for our favorite birthday parade ideas.
What is a birthday parade?
A drive-by birthday parade is exactly what it sounds like: a parade of cars to celebrate the guest of honor. Guests decorate their cars, turn up their music, and drive by to share their well-wishes. They may or may not stop to drop off a gift or say hello at a distance, depending on health risks and levels of comfort. A birthday parade can be a surprise or not — just make sure you plan it so that the guest of honor is ready to watch from their doorstep, porch, or front lawn (maybe even with a drink or special treat in-hand).
How to Throw a Drive-By Birthday Parade for a Safe Celebration
It’s fair to say, a birthday parade requires a bit more planning than a normal get-together. First, you’ll want to settle on a time and date that works for everyone (most importantly, the birthday guest of honor). Depending on how thoroughly you want to plan the birthday parade (e.g. if you’ll be working with a theme, involving favors, or providing refreshments), you’ll want to send invitations at least three or four weeks ahead of time.
On the birthday parade invitation, provide guests with as much information as possible to ensure that the parade runs smoothly. Give a meeting spot and time—ideally, somewhere near the guest of honor’s home. A large parking lot, like one found at a church or school, is a great option. There, everyone can get together and line up in their cars before heading out in a procession.
If you are planning on giving out treats (by setting out a basket where guests can grab a goody bag from, for instance), make sure to collect RSVPs so you have enough time to prepare the proper amount. If your budget allows for it, you can also rent out an ice cream truck or taco truck to be stationed at the guest-of-honor’s home for a fun pick-up experience.
Birthday Parade Ideas for Kids
Birthday parades are fun for all ages, but they’re perhaps most exciting for little ones—especially if your tyke regularly gets excited by cars that just happen to pass by them on the road. These birthday parade ideas will take the event to the next level for them.
1. Unicorn parade
Add some streamers and a horn to each car and they’ll instantly feel way more magical. You can also set up an inflatable unicorn in the front yard for guests to take photos with. Invite guests with a unicorn cake card and phrasing such as: Calling all Unicorn Riders. Drive by or get out and ride a real unicorn.
2. Dinosaur parade
Dinosaurs are a classic theme for kid’s parties, and for good reason — they never fail to induce smiles. Get an inflatable dino for your front yard and surprise the kids in the parade with a larger-than-life photo opp. Pick your favorite dinosaur party template and consider this invitation phrasing: Beep, honk, roar and wave! It’s a drive by Dinosaur Party Parade! Stomp on by for a dino-mite time and favors!
3. Joint ice cream birthday parade
If a friend has a birthday near your child’s, combine their birthday parades and invite even more friends with Cheree Berry’s Summer Swirl card. Better yet, make it an ice cream social. Sweeten up the classic car parade with an ice cream truck in your driveway.
4. Petting zoo parade
Can’t make it to the zoo? Bring the zoo to you! Host a petting zoo and a pony for the kids! Look for a local farm that will set up a small petting zoo in your yard for a drive-by petting zoo party. Guests can stop and visit with the animals if they want, or just appreciate the animals from afar.
Petting zoo parade wording: We hope you can stop by and visit the animals, or just drive by and wave! Please do whatever you are most comfortable with! Your presence is your present, so please no gifts! But please wear a mask!
5. Cheer parade
Everyone can use a cheerleader now and again. Throw a mini pep rally by having guests decorate their cars in the local cheer squad’s colors. Invite guests with Birthday Cheer by Rifle Paper Co. with the wording: Sarah turns 11 this year, it’s time to sing, and dance, and cheer.
6. Monster truck or race car drive-by birthday parade
If your little one already loves cars, a car parade is a great format to consider. Encourage guests to decorate their vehicles with the theme in mind, by drawing a big number on their car. Setting up flags—or even a faux finish line, if possible—is highly encouraged. This pit crew card from Paper Source is a great option for your race car parade invitation.
7. Wizards and wands parade
A car parade can feel a little more magical with a wizard theme. Invite guests with a Birthday Magic Card by Paperless Post and encourage them to take inspiration from all things mystical for their car decorations. Think: Stars, moons, and even wizard house colors. Dressing up in costumes would also be encouraged.
8. Fire truck parade
Lots of little ones love to spot fire trucks—so consider a fire Truck parade to make a parade of ordinary (yet dressed-up) cars feel even more special to them. Better yet, see if a local firetruck could pass by and honk!
Birthday parade ideas for adults
Of course, birthday parades aren’t just for kids—and they can be a fun alternative to a Zoom birthday party. These birthday parade ideas can make the party feel extra-special.
1. Birthday parade with doughnuts and coffee
What better way to start the day? Set up a station for guests to pick up a doughnut and coffee as they drive by to share their birthday greeting in the morning. Get the plan started with The Indigo Bunting’s Donut Card. Let your guests know that this is a celebration they “donut” want to miss.
2. Driveway party
Can’t decide between a drive-by party or a socially distanced driveway party? Combine them with a BYO chair celebration. Have the birthday parade end in a place where guests can park their cars. Then set up your chairs in a driveway or parking lot. Queue up a playlist and get the driveway party started safely from there.
3. Puppies on parade
No cars are necessary for this fun idea. Encourage neighbors to parade their furry friends by your lawn in their birthday best. Invite the whole hood with our Kennel Club invitation. Did someone say puppy parade?
4. Vintage car parade
Ask everyone to decorate their cars with nostalgic decor for a festive vintage car parade—you can organize the cars so they “count down” or “count up” the decades as they drive by, or you can ask that everyone stick to one decade (perhaps the one the birthday guest of honor was born in). If anyone in your friend group owns an actual vintage car, ask them to drive it along for a fun touch. Or host a top down parade, in which anyone who owns a convertible is encouraged to drive with it pulled down. Make sure you keep an eye on the weather when planning, and give a rain date on the invitation if there’s potential of showers.
5. Drive-by parade
A theme isn’t 100% necessary for a birthday parade to feel special (after all, any parade has its own charms). You can keep it simple with just a regular old drive by parade—ask people to make banners and use balloons, and turn up the tunes (you can even send around a playlist or collect the birthday guest of honor’s favorite songs). Party from afar, by car!
6. Float on by
Any good parade is full of bright colors, streamers, and all kinds of exciting decorations. A theme isn’t absolutely necessary for a car parade, but if you do want to take the celebration to the next level, balloons make everything feel more special. Ask guests to simply come sing “Happy Birthday,” and decorate their car or bike with plenty of festive floaters.
7. Milestone birthday parade
Celebrating milestone birthdays like 40’s, 50’s, 60’s while adhering to social distancing measures can be a challenge, which is why car parades are a great option. Birthday parades feel special and memorable, while still keeping all guests healthy. Invite guests to a surprise birthday parade that ends with a toast. Make sure the parade ends somewhere with plenty of parking, so guests can get out of their cars and “Toast from Afar.” Use a milestone invitation to highlight that it’s an important birthday. You can have some fun with the wording of your invitations too. Encourage guests to Pop by and pop bottles!
More birthday parade invitations
Every memorable celebration starts with the perfect birthday invitation, and Paperless Post’s Cards and Flyers make it invite everyone on your guest list. Cards make for a slightly more formal birthday invitation, sent via email, while Flyers can be texted or shared on social media, if you’re planning more of a casual get-together (or, if you just don’t have everyone’s emails on hand). Here are few more festive birthday parade invitations that we love:
— Car parade birthday: This sweet Card option is perfect for a straightforward car parade, especially if the guest of honor is an animal-lover.
— Little race car: If you’re going with a race car theme, this Card will get your plans started on the right note.
— Birthday parade card: This Card is versatile for any themed birthday parade—just be sure to specify any specific decorations guests should gravitate towards when gussying up their vehicle.
— Which way to the parade? : This simple, pretty Card is a great option for a party that doesn’t necessarily have a theme. Inside, give guests specific information about what they can expect.
— Upload your own design – Can’t find an invitation to match your birthday parade theme? Choose your own adventure and upload your own car parade template.
— Surprise birthday parade: As a surprise, car parades are especially delightful. Make sure guests know to keep the plan on the down low with these invites.
To set expectations for the birthday parade, clarify whether guests are welcome to bring gifts or not, and whether or not they can get out of their car. If the guest of honor is comfortable having people get out of their car for a socially distanced “hello,” they can receive gifts then. Otherwise, one person can collect all the gifts in their trunk ahead of time and drop them off at the end of the parade.
As for the guest of honor, make sure they have a comfortable seat on their front porch, lawn, or doorstep so they can watch the parade from a distance. It’s great if someone from their household can watch with them to take pictures and video of the parade—after all, it’s not every day that a person gets to take in a parade held in their honor.
Don’t have everyone’s email? No problem—text everyone on your list a textable birthday parade invitation and get them in the loop. They’re more fun (and formal) than a standard text, which helps to get a party started on the right foot — or, in this case, the right wheel.