Tips to Organize a Drive By Birthday Parade

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Move over traditional birthday parties.  There’s a new birthday tradition in town.  One that’s become popular since state’s enacted stay at home rules and the pandemic seems to be here to stay (for awhile at least).

Since kids (and adults) can’t get together in person right now to celebrate important birthday milestones, they have been organizing something different.  The drive by birthday parade. 

To be honest, before all of this happened, I never thought about decorating my car and driving by someone’s house honking and waving.  But now it doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary.  And it’s a great way to celebrate a birthday from a distance.

Plus, planning a birthday parade is really fun.  First, decorating the family car let’s everyone get creative.  We love hanging streamers, writing messages on the glass and putting balloons in the back window.  It’s become a cool family project and every time that we do it, we get a bit more imaginative.

Second, surprising someone we care about by driving by their house and making a fuss has been wonderful.  Even from a distance.  I love the look on their faces when they unexpectedly see the line up of cars start coming down the street and realize that we are all there to celebrate their special day.


Drive by birthday parades have become quite common in our neighborhood lately.  Every time we hear the music playing, horns beeping and shouts of joy, we run to the door.  My kids love to wave and shout too.  Even if they don’t personally know the parade drivers or the child they are celebrating.  It’s almost better than someone screaming “Snow” in the middle of the school day.  

And the best part is that organizing a drive by birthday parade isn’t that hard.  Check out these ideas below to organize your own successful birthday parade and surprise someone you love today.

Announce the Parade

Everyone loves a parade.  But if they don’t know the parade details, it will be hard to organize the participants.  When planning your birthday parade, create an invitation to announce the date and time, location (birthday child’s house) and where you want to meet up. (Check out our colorful birthday parade invitations from the shop here.)  

If you are tech savvy, you could send your invite via E-vite or Paperless Post.  You can also create a Facebook Event.  Using these websites helps you easily update guests about changes, post photos and communicate together.

And remember, gathering everyone at the birthday person’s house will ruin the surprise.  Instead, choose a local parking lot, cross streets or someone else’s home to assemble. 

You also might want to include an RSVP so you know who to expect.  By knowing who is coming, you can contact stragglers and know when you can start the parade.   

Find a Meeting Place

As mentioned above, you don’t want to meet at the birthday person’s house or the birthday parade will no longer be a surprise.  Even if it isn’t a surprise, the effect of a long string of cars doesn’t happen if you start at your end location.

Think about a real parade.  They usually start assembling the cars at least a few blocks away so they can drive through town to their end location.  They don’t meet at the finish line.

Find a local parking lot (school or park lots work great), a set of cross streets or the organizer’s home (if it is nearby) to assemble the cars in a line up.  Be sure to tell guests the meet up place on the invitation.  You might also want to have guests meet 15 minutes or more before the parade begins to make sure everyone is there.  This gives guests a buffer to show up so you can start the parade on time.


Decorate your Cars

Now for the fun part – decorating your car for the parade.  There are lots of ways to make your car look amazing for the birthday parade.  One idea is to find out things that the birthday child likes – such as favorite characters, colors or party theme.  You can decorate your car using these ideas as your palette.

There are lots of different things that you can use to decorate your car.  And if you don’t want to tap into your own creativity, you can decorate your car with this trunk decorating kit (affiliate) that’s easy to assemble.  

We love to get creative and make car decorating a family project.  Write birthday messages on the car windows using chalk markers for cars (affiliate).  Tie bundles of balloons from the trunk or side mirrors.  Hang banners along the doors and shimmery tassel garlands from the bumpers.  Drape streamers vertically inside the back window to create a festive backdrop.  You can also stick vinyl decals or car door magnets (affiliate) around the sides and hood of the car that say “Happy Birthday” or are emojis.

As you drive in the parade, others in the car can hold up signs, blow bubbles, rattle hand clappers (affiliate) or blow a trumpet (affiliate).  Plan to make some noise.  

You can also all dress up.  Have the parade goers wear the child’s favorite character outfit, birthday crowns or party hats.  You can even hold up a big head cut out of their favorite celeb.  Whatever things you think will spread joy and make the birthday guest of honor feel special.  

Create Signs

One of my favorite parts of a birthday parade are all of the creative signs.  You can purchase pre-made signs in certain themes or print your own from birthday printable collections. 

You can also make your own signs the old school way – poster board and markers.  Write “Happy Birthday”, “Smile, it’s your Birthday” or another fun phrase.  Hold up your sign in the window as you drive by or hand to the birthday person as a special birthday message.  


Set Up the Seat of Honor

With all of this effort going into organizing a birthday parade, you don’t want the birthday person to miss it.  Make sure that they are hanging out on their front lawn to watch the parade go by.

Set up lawn chairs, a tent or awning if it’s hot.  Add a birthday banner (affiliate),  yard sign (affiliate) or even giant inflatable cake (affiliate) so everyone in the neighborhood knows that it’s their birthday.  You can also bring out refreshments and snacks to enjoy as the parade drives by.

The guest of honor can also wear a birthday crown, have a fun birthday t-shirt or other fun outfit.  Most importantly, as people drive by, there shouldn’t be any question who the guest of honor is.

Hand out Favors

Although completely optional, it is nice to give parade drivers a little thank you for organizing.  Most parades that I’ve attended have tossed candy, necklaces or other trinkets. 

As the cars drive by, you can hand out favors to them.  Some ideas are a small bag of candy for the drive home, bubble bottles, noise makers or other small goodies.  Just a little something to say thank you.

On another note… I don’t recommend throwing confetti at your birthday parade.  Although confetti is very popular at regular parades, they also have a parade clean up crew that comes to sweep it up afterwards.  Since most birthday parade goers aren’t willing to clean up the streets themselves, it’s probably best to leave the confetti and confetti poppers at home.  You’d also hate to be accused of littering.


Another idea for your birthday parade could be to reverse who is doing the parade.  If everyone is in the same community, you can ask them to come out to their front lawns and the sidewalk.  Then, decorate the birthday guest of honor’s car and drive around to see all of the birthday wishes.  

Planning a birthday parade has become a sweet way to celebrate birthdays during this time of social distancing.  But drive by parades don’t have to be limited to just someone’s birthday.  You can also celebrate graduation, end of school or other milestone in someone’s life.  


Planning on organizing your own birthday parade?  Check out our new birthday parade invitations in the shop.  They are the perfect way to assemble your own parade for someone special.

And if you need some other birthday ideas in this time of social distancing, check out this guide to hosting a virtual birthday party or simple ways to celebrate your birthday at home.  

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