An Abbotsford man celebrated his 35th birthday on Sunday (March 22) with 70 guests – but none of them were in the room with him.
Instead, Peter Van Mil hosted a 15-minute Facebook Live party to mark the occasion, while many of his family and friends watched online and posted messages.
Van Mil, a construction worker, has been dutifully self-isolating at home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he wanted to be able to connect with his loved ones on his big day, especially because he is currently all alone.
His wife, from whom he is separated, and their three kids – two girls and a boy, ages 5, 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 – are currently in Montreal, but are due back in Abbotsford this week.
(He will continue to keep his distance from them until they pass the two-week self-isolation period recommended for anyone who has travelled.)
Van Mil began posting messages on Facebook over the weekend, asking people to join him on Facebook on Sunday night.
Then, because he had never before done a Facebook Live video, he read an online tutorial to prepare himself.
At 7:45 p.m. Sunday, Van Mil went live from his living room. He had gone to he dollar store earlier in the day, and had a Happy Birthday banner and balloons displayed.
The video shows Van Mil with a teddy bear on the couch beside him, which he says is a nod to British sitcom star Mr. Bean, who brings such a toy to a New Year’s Eve party.
Van Mil puts on a party hat, pours himself one of his favourite beers – Straffe Hendrick – and lights a candle on a slice of his birthday carrot cake.
He then sings Happy Birthday and opens two gifts – a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer – that are in keeping with the pandemic and supply shortages due to hoarding.
Afterwards, Van Mil and his friend Chris moved to Instagram, where they did a dual 90-minute live video.
Van Mil said the virtual birthday party was a “very positive experience” for him. He said he would normally celebrate his birthday in person with about 20 family members, but connecting with 70 people online helped fill that gap.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I started getting nervous going into it … but, as (the video) came on, I started finding my groove and it kind of flowed … It was fun. I really enjoyed it,” he said.