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Bring Your Appetite and Kick Up Your Heels at Mahrajan

Photos by Heather Ziegler Cookie bakers for the 86th annual Mahrajan (Lebanese Festival) are shown with Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church’s Monsignor Bakhos Chidiac after a day of baking. They include from left, Linda Duffy, Becky Ferrera, Gina Hancher, Susan John, Bakhos, Nettie Seidler, Ava Murad, Shirley Bine, Fran Saseen and Libby Magnone.

WHEELING — The 86th annual Mahrajan, better known as the Lebanese Festival, will again bring two days of music, dancing, traditional ethnic foods, vendors and amusement for all ages on Saturday, Aug. 10 and Sunday, Aug. 11 at Oglebay Park’s Levenson Shelter.

Hosted by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church of Wheeling, the festival will run from noon-8 p.m. Saturday and noon-7 p.m. next Sunday.

As is tradition, the festival will include an outdoor Maronite Catholic mass at 10:30 a.m. next Sunday on the festival grounds. Mass will be celebrated in English and hymns are chanted in Arabic and Aramaic. Monsignor Bakhos Chidiac, pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Church, will preside over the liturgy.

Title sponsor for this year’s Mahrajan is the law firm of Gold, Khourey & Turak. Young and not-so-young will find something to make them smile, according to Susan John, publicity chair.

For the youngsters, there will be face painting, balloons, inflated rock-climbing wall, bounce-house and more, while adults can take part in cultural events music and the popular traditional dances.

Open to the public, Mahrajan is most noted for its wonderful, homemade Lebanese foods featuring kibbee, lamb shish kabob (grilled over open-fire), shawarma, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli, hummus, meat pies, and spinach pies, as well as baklawa, mamoul, ghouribeh and other delicious Lebanese pastries. Soda, beer and other beverages will be available. All food items and beverages will be sold a la carte, while supplies last. Cash and credit cards will be accepted.

Monsignor Chidiac offers an explanation of the event. “Do you wonder why the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph used to take Jesus to the festival in Jerusalem every year? It was the Holy Family setting an example for all modern families to share in the events of their community in order to declare their identity as belonging to a special tradition.

In sharing with other members of our community, the joyful wedding dance, the tears of grieving at the funeral, the shearing sounds of a plentiful harvest, and the grinding mourning of loss … every youth and adult shapes their personality and becomes the special person they are.”

Live music will echo through the park on both days as The David Hakim Ensemble from Cleveland performs live Lebanese music and leads visitors in the “Dabke” – a traditional and spirited Lebanese folk dance led by a drummer playing the derbake. Internationally award-winning and professional belly dancer Tiffani Ahdia and Troupe Bint il Nahar, from Huntington, West Virginia will perform four beautiful shows on Sunday afternoon. Our Lady of Lebanon Church Young-Adult Dance Troupe will round-off the entertainment line-up with four shows each day.

Also on the festival grounds, visitors will find The Marketplace, a must-visit attraction that will feature dance costumes, clothing, dry goods, Lebanese spices, specialty items and souvenirs. A jewelry vendor also will be on hand.

John noted that the festival has become a mecca for family reunions and visitors come from far and wide to attend.

“The festival is a testament to the tradition and faith of our community. My Sittoo and Giddoo (grandparents) were members of the first generation of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Wheeling.

They worked alongside their family, friends and neighbors to build the church. My parents carried on the Mahrajan tradition along side my grandparents, me and my siblings alongside my parents, and now our nieces, nephews and children alongside of us. It lives inside of us.” John said.

The Lebanese Festival – Mahrajan is the largest fundraiser of the year for the historic Center Wheeling church, which is West Virginia’s only Maronite Catholic Church. The first Mahrajan was organized by devoted parishioners in 1933 to raise funds to rebuild the church after it was destroyed by a fire in 1932. The Mahrajan is held the second weekend in August each year to celebrate the Lebanese heritage and honor the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Admission and parking are free at the festival. A free shuttle service will be available from the parking lot to the Levenson Shelter at Site 1.

Open-air seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the festival is held rain or shine.

The festival schedule and additional details are available at www.lebanesefest.org, https://www.facebook.com/LebaneseFest or by calling 304-233-1688.

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