Though most UAE residents are keen on celebrating the Christmas season, religious leaders have reminded that merriments must remain low-key and Covid-safe.
While churches in Sharjah have been given permission to organise Christmas masses under strict social distancing protocols this year, churches in Dubai await a final decision on the matter from local authorities.
Fr Lennie JA Conully, parish priest of the St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, urged the faithful to make safety a priority. “Celebrations can be done next year…life is more important,” he said.
“Protocols set by the government must be strictly followed as the UAE government is doing a very good job in protecting us from the pandemic. People must wear masks, gloves, and maintain social distancing.”
Christmas masses in Sharjah
Fr Joji Miriam from the St Gregorios Orthodox Church told Khaleej Times: “In Sharjah, our Christmas mass will be organised from 6pm to 10.30pm on December 24. Those wishing to participate should pre-register online.”
The church will accept only 160 worshippers to attend mass this year. “Last year, we had about 5,000 people attending the Christmas mass,” he added.
All other festivities, like carolling, will not be taking place this year. “Regular mass is currently being organised at 50 per cent capacity. All worshippers have to wear masks and maintain a two-metre distance. Also, only people in the age group of 12-60 can come to the church.”
“We will also stream the mass online. This year, I request people to stay home,” added Fr Miriam.
Similarly, St Michael’s Catholic Church in Sharjah will hold a vigil mass on December 23 and 24. Christmas mass on December 25 will begin at 3am and will continue until 8.15 pm for people of different nationalities.
Mass schedule for Dubai churches
St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai has circulated an advisory detailing “probable timings” for its Christmas mass services. On December 24, it is expecting to hold masses at 5pm and 9pm, and on December 25 at 9am and 7pm.
There will be a limited number of attendees per mass, it added. “Registration of those attending any of the services will take place on a first-come-first-served basis online, via the church website.”
Only registered parishioners who have received the confirmation from the church will be permitted to enter the premises. All other safety precautions will be implemented.
Fr Bineesh Babu from the St Thomas Orthodox Cathedral has said they are awaiting the go-ahead from local authorities. “As residents of this country, it is our responsibility to be safe and keep our communities safe.”
Reverend Harrison Chinnakumar from the Holy Trinity Church said: “This year is a special year, and my advice to people is to keep festivities to the bare minimum.”
A different but still a merry Christmas
“It will be a different Christmas, but that does not mean that it cannot be a merry one,” Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Europe office, said in an online broadcast on Wednesday.
Kluge said that during the recent religious celebrations of Ramadan and Diwali, people had turned to technology to get together, with virtual community celebrations online. As Christmas approaches, he said, the public should consider whether getting together with loved ones was prudent.
“Cherish the festive season with those close to you. If it’s a large gathering, with vulnerable people, you might have to postpone that gathering until you can safely gather,” he said.