After five years of conflict, the Syrian city of Aleppo celebrated its first Christmas in a half-decade.
The numbers attending Christmas mass surged this year now that worshippers no longer feared being bombed by missiles in the rebel-held area.
The St. Elias Cathedral, which was reduced to rubble, became a gathering place for worshippers who decorated it as best as they could and transformed it into a nativity scene, according to the Independent.
Hundreds of Christmas revelers danced in the streets of Azizya, where a huge Christmas tree stands — it had gone unlit since rebels seized the eastern side of the city in 2012.
“We did not expect this moment to ever actually come. We’ve had four years of pain, of war and blood. We couldn’t even imagine that we would once again see all this joy and celebration,” said a resident of Aleppo, who marked the lighting of the tree as the return of peace.
More than 1,000 Christians were killed, their villages evacuated and dozens of their places of worship demolished. Some Christian clerics were also abducted by unknown gunmen.
In 1920, 30 percent of Syria's population was Christian but now it has dwindled to less than 10 percent.
Banner/thumbnail image: Reuters