There was a palpable sense of joy and relief in the air as thousands of worshippers attended Christmas Day Mass at Dubai's St Mary’s Catholic Church.
The reason for the sense of revelry was all too apparent as parishioners joined the first Christmas service since pandemic restrictions were eased earlier in the year.
While the rules about wearing face masks have been relaxed, many people chose to wear protective coverings during the service.
“It’s a great feeling to be amidst people again to celebrate this holy occasion,” said Indian worshipper Jatin Singh, 43, who works in Dubai in the telecom sector.
“It just didn’t feel the same watching Mass online when we were restricted to our houses during the pandemic.
“You just have to look around to see how happy everyone is to be able to celebrate Christmas with family and friends once again.”
Sunday’s service was part of the first Christmas Day Masses held around the UAE since two years of restrictions were removed.
The congregation gleefully mingled outside after the service to take selfies and chat with family and friends.
There are 10 services planned for Christmas Day at St Mary’s alone.
“The pandemic held us back but now we feel joyful because we are more safe than before,” said John Coutinho, 48, a chemist from India, who was attending Mass along with his family.
“We feel confident about coming back to Mass now thanks to Jesus.”
Also attending the service on Sunday morning was Indian secretary Michelle Rodrigues, 54.
“It’s wonderful to be back at Christmas Day Mass. This is the first one with no restrictions on the crowd and you can see there are so many people here,” she said.
“Christmas is about family and it’s great we can celebrate together like this.”
Italian flight attendant Christina Furlan, 31, was experiencing her first Christmas Day Mass in Dubai since moving to the UAE.
“It’s my second Christmas in Dubai and going to Mass was something I always did at home on Christmas Day,” said Ms Furlan.
“That is why it was important to make the most of it by going to Mass.”
Christopher Fernandes, 52, who works in the service industry, attended Mass with his family.
“Watching Mass online was okay during the pandemic but we prefer to come to the church itself,” said Mr Fernandes, from India.
“By going in person you get to meet others and celebrate with them and feel the togetherness.”