Inside a Covid-19 wedding in Dubai: Couples tie knot before guests in masks and gloves

A ceremony for 400 was downsized to only 25 – but it was a perfect day for Justin George and Jubee Vargheese

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Read more: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed attends royal wedding virtually

Inside Dubai's St Thomas Orthodox Cathedral on Monday evening, Justin George and Jubee Vargheese joined together as husband and wife in front of 25 friends and family.

Dressed in an embellished dusty pink sari, endless lengths of delicate lace draped the bride’s petite frame.

A radiant Ms Vargheese beamed with pride as her mother and father walked her down the aisle.

Though it was not quite the day she had envisaged, it still proved to be memorable.

If not for the pandemic, the guest count would have been closer to 400. The venue would have been different too. India, not Dubai.

"We started planning our wedding in February then the coronavirus outbreak happened and things changed very quickly," she told The National.

I feel like any other bride would feel, nervous and excited

“We had scheduled a big wedding back home on August 24 but had to cancel it because of all the restrictions.

“We did think about postponing it until things settled but we decided just a few weeks ago to go ahead with a smaller ceremony in Dubai.”

As the evening peak hour traffic built outside the cathedral’s walls in Oud Metha, wedding guests gathered to welcome the bride and groom.

Clad in colourful saris and suits – from reds to purples and blues to oranges – they looked decidedly different from typical wedding crowd.

All wore a face mask and many opted for gloves. Men stood to the left and women to the right, their heads covered with the pallu, the edge of the sari.

The earnest marriage service placed an emphasis on worship over celebration.

Getting married in the Covid climate

Getting married in the Covid climate

As delicate hymns echoed throughout the cathedral and the intimate gathering got under way, the surroundings painted a stark reminder of the current pandemic.

A thermal thermometer was placed at the entrance to check those moving in and out of the building. And separate entry and exit points were clearly marked to guide guests in and out.

As the bride and groom sat before the priest during the blessing of the rings and blessing of the crowns, the entire congregation remained on their feet.

Bright yellow stickers dotted the carpet, each placed two metres apart. They reminded guests of the prevailing physical-distancing rule.

As bride and groom, Mr George and Ms Vargheese were exempt from covering their faces.

Even the priest, Father Ninan Panackamattam, sported a light blue surgical mask, though it did little to take the shine off his vibrant gold vestment, the robe worn by the clergy.

“To be very frank, I feel like any other bride would feel, nervous and excited,” Ms Vargheese said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , October 26– 2020 :- Jubee Vargheese (bride) with her parents coming for the marriage ceremony held at the St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Dubai. Relatives and friends were wearing protective face mask and gloves as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus and maintaining social distance during the ceremony.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online/Instagram. Story by Kelly
Bride Jubee Vargheese arrives at the cathedral in Dubai with her parents who are wearing mandatory face masks. Pawan Singh / The National

“The only difference is I feel a little bit worried because we have to think about everyone’s safety.

“If the plans went ahead as normal in India we would have had between 250 to 400 guests, instead we have 25 for the ceremony and 40 for a reception dinner.

“All the planning would have been arranged by an events management company in India so actually, this way it is a lot more simple and I love it.”

Typically, a ceremony like this would last up to two hours, but with strict government regulations in place the service was capped at only 30 minutes.

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 troop of friends and family.

While many couples in the city chose to postpone or cancel their weddings prior to the announcement because of Covid-19, Mr George and Ms Vargheese decided to go ahead with theirs.

And though their wedding preparations took a big hit, guests said the day was a jubilant affair.

“I’ve come today for my cousin’s wedding,” said Charmagne Thomas, relative of the groom.

“It has been a very unique experience for me, we’re in Covid times so here we are wearing gloves and a mask to a wedding, but different is not a bad thing.

“I feel like the happiness has been multiplied so much and I’m so happy to share in this day.”

Supporting the bride, Merin Sara, 21, and Neha Daniel, 20, wore matching pink masks to complement their vibrant outfits.

“We’ve been close friends with Jubee for many years and despite the fact we are going through a pandemic, it’s a joy to be here,” said Ms Daniel.

“To me, it honestly doesn’t feel any different apart from having to wear a mask," she said.

“Honestly, we thought we would never attend a wedding during these times so we feel blessed to be here and be able to celebrate through such a challenging time.”