Handshakes are out, hugs are in—and say goodbye to blowing out the candles.

By Lisa Milbrand
May 05, 2021
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We've been making do with more than a year's worth of drive-by, virtual, and socially distanced social events, from Zoom birthday parties to outdoor weddings with the teeniest of guest lists. But as the number of vaccinated people in the U.S. continues to climb, people are starting to get their social lives back—and a few parties have begun to crop up on people's calendars.

But even after the final COVID restrictions are removed, there may be some lasting effects of the pandemic on how we choose to celebrate. "I think how often and how people entertain will depend entirely on how their area was affected by COVID," says Tamara Reynolds, author of How to Throw a Dinner Party Without Having a Nervous Breakdown. "People who didn't feel affected will return sooner—people who were very affected are having a harder time coming back."

You'll see new entertaining styles gaining prominence, a few old traditions disappearing—and a lot more people excited to have you over to their house (or at least, their patio). But one thing remains sure: We're all ready to celebrate. "People are craving parties—large and small—to celebrate the life they are returning to and have missed so dearly," Reynolds says.

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Outdoors will still be in

We'll be putting all that backyard and patio upgrading we've been doing during the pandemic to good use, as more people plan for safer and easier entertaining as the pandemic winds down. "Now that people understand that they can do it, they're excited to entertain outdoors," says event planner Michelle Rago. "Tents aren't going anywhere."

Some traditions may be on their way out

The handshake may be in its final days. "We only shake hands with people we don't know or aren't close to, and there's no way of knowing if that person is 'COVID safe,'" Reynolds says. "But hugs are back—I think when people feel safe, when they know both parties are vaccinated, they are dying to hug each other."

And blowing out the candles for birthdays may be officially off the table. "Blowing out birthday candles, though quaint, is so gross," Reynolds says. "I think that now that we know how far aerosolized saliva travels, we won't be doing that outside of children's birthday parties, and perhaps not even there."

Parties at home will be getting a boost

In fact, the number of Americans planning to host get-togethers at home rose by 25 percent over pre-pandemic levels, according to a survey by ButcherBox. And the vast majority of people (79 percent) said their first post-pandemic party will be at someone's home, rather than a restaurant or other venue. "Events involving food will be smaller events in homes with close friends—people known to the host and to each other," Reynolds says.

Party sizes may get bigger—fast

While the past year has been about very small, intimate celebrations, Rago expects that bigger parties will be on tap for 2022 and beyond. "We're getting booked for parties of 250, 300, 400 people, along with parties for under 100," Rago says. "That's really no different than in the past."

Expect a busier social calendar in 2022

There's a backlog of things to celebrate, as many people put off parties for milestones or weddings until they could celebrate as they wanted. "They didn't want to have masks and restrictions on the dance floor, so they waited," Rago says. 

That means that if you're planning a bigger party for a milestone birthday, anniversary, or wedding in the next couple of years, it's better to be on the early side with planning your party. "You'll have people who moved their events into 2022 and 2023 competing with the people who normally would have celebrated then," Rago says. "There will be a lot of competition for venues and vendors."

Think bars, not buffets

Some styles of entertaining may be heading off into the sunset post-pandemic—like the buffet line, Rago says. Instead, people will be reintroducing interactive specialty bars and dessert stations, where you can create a custom creation—like a prosecco bar with different juices and liqueurs to whip up the perfect aperitif. 

People will be pulling out all the stops

If there's anything we discovered during the pandemic, it's how much we love the people closest to us—and as confidence in the economic and pandemic picture improves, that may translate to adding a little more "special" into special celebrations with our family and friends. "Even if the guest list is smaller, people haven't pulled back on their budget," Rago says. "You can still make your celebration elegant and incredibly chic."