Dubai couples swap grand weddings for 20-minute ceremonies

Church weddings on the rise again as couples tailor plans for the big day amid Covid-19

Powered by automated translation

Wedding bells are in the air across Dubai as couples adapt to the challenges of tying the knot during a pandemic.

Some churches have reported a surge in enquiries in recent weeks, with prospective brides and grooms eager to save the date even if their big day proves smaller than first anticipated.

Many couples are choosing to wed in more intimate settings as travel and safety restrictions prevent them from flying to their home countries to marry.

This month, Dubai's government declared wedding receptions of up to 200 people would be permitted, opening up the opportunity for newly-weds to celebrate with a larger party of friends and family.

Since then, several couples have come forward to St Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Oud Metha to plan their wedding.

Those who would usually go home to get married are now coming to us an alternative

“While guest capacity limits have increased for wedding receptions, religious ceremonies are still limited to 25 people at our church,” said Father Ninan Panackamattam.

“We have two last minute weddings booked in this week, on Sunday and Monday.

"We can only hold two weddings a week as per the current Covid-19 rules.

“Since the announcement was made last week about wedding receptions, we have had about seven couples come forward to book a religious service with us."

Wedding ceremonies at the church are limited to 30 minutes and have a maximum capacity of 25 guests, all of which have to be blood relatives.

Toilet facilities on site will be closed off to visitors and refreshments are not allowed to be handed out to visitors.

“We have seen a surge in enquiries since the easing of restrictions for wedding receptions, but many of the couples are choosing to marry during a pandemic out of necessity,” said Father Panackamattam.

“For the most part, the marriages we are conducting were supposed to take place in Kerala, India.

"They would be much larger gatherings but because of the various Covid-19 restrictions, they are now taking place in Dubai in much smaller numbers.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 4, 2020.  Father Reinhold Sahner with the newly installed hand sanitisers at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter: Patrick Ryan
Father Reinhold Sahner at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Dubai. Victor Besa / The National 

At St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jebel Ali, Father Reinhold Sahner, parish priest, said he had seen an increase in the number of couples marrying in the past few months.

“The Community Development Authority in Dubai has permitted our church to conduct weddings during the pandemic,” he said.

"We have of course seen a slight increase in bookings as those who would usually go home to get married are now coming to us an alternative.

“There is a maximum of five people in the church at any one time, including the bride, groom and priest.

"The ceremony lasts just 20 minutes."

This year, Father Sahner said it had mainly conducted weddings for couples from the Philippines and India.

Traditionally, such wedding parties would usually cater to a large numbers of guests but he said many brides and grooms have chosen to forgo big celebrations for the sake of becoming an official partnership.

Laura Daher walks down the aisle with her brother George Daher. She married Elie Abi Daher in a quiet ceremony with only eight guests at the St Therese Church in Abu Dhabi
Laura Daher walks down the aisle with her brother George Daher. She married Elie Abi Daher in a quiet ceremony with only eight guests at the St Therese Church in Abu Dhabi

“Many of those who planned their weddings before the pandemic have still chosen to go ahead, just on a smaller scale,” he said.

“In general, though very different to what they had planned, most have enjoyed the more intimate affairs.”

A parish official at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha, the largest Catholic church in the Middle East, said it was still not conducting weddings on site.

As churches have noted more couples coming forward to fast track their wedding ceremonies, wedding planners in the city hoped business would start to pick up as a result.

Sajna Riyas, chief executive of Jovial Events, said October to March was typically a very busy wedding season.

“Because of Covid-19, we had about 10 weddings cancelled this year and many more postponed,” she said.

“We typically cater to large Indian weddings that start from about Dh200,000 for 150 to 200 guests.”

With the Dubai government giving the go ahead for larger wedding parties, she said some clients would have to increase their budget or reduce their guest list to make sure social distancing rules were met.

But on the whole, more people were showing an interest in rescheduling previously postponed events.

“Because of travel restrictions more couples are choosing to stay in Dubai to wed,” she said.

“Our event sizes may be smaller than normal but to counteract that we can expect to see more families booking event planners to ensure strict safety measures are adhered too.”